Last time, we began to explore what a subplot is, its purpose, and how they can be used to enhance the main story. Today, we’ll continue that discussion with examples from Jurassic Park.
Let’s keep going!
Subplots have ARCS
A subplot should be considered a mini-story within the main story, with its own beginning, middle, and end. Often, subplots might be introduced in a film, but they lack a conclusion for one reason or another. Ensure that your subplots have an end-point and that their conclusion ties into the main story.
In Jurassic Park, Dr. Grant’s character-driven subplot has a definite arc. From him making it clear at the dig site that he has no patience for kids and then not wanting anything to go in the same SUV as Lex and Tim when he first meets them.
Grant becomes their savior and protector when things go to hell on the island, even telling a panicked Lex that he’s not gonna leave her and her brother. He then becomes a father figure to them, educating them about the dinosaurs as they hike back to safety. By the film’s end, Grant no longer seems to have any aversion to kids and seems rather comfortable around them.
With Nedry, his story-driven subplot arc is shorter but still impactful. His greed leads him to steal the embryos from the island to give to Nedry. His plans are complicated by a storm that hits the island, making it harder for him to get to the boat in time to get away. He rigs the security, camera, and power systems to assist in his theft.
Still, his actions result in dinosaurs getting loose. As he escapes to the East Dock, he skids off the road, runs into a “playful” Dilophosaurus, and meets his fate; the embryos are lost under a pile of mud.
Both subplots have a clear beginning, middle, and end. If we never saw Nedry’s fate but found out about it in passing during The Lost World, that would not have been a satisfying conclusion to that subplot.
Or, if Grant had left on a separate helicopter from Lex and Tim, we wouldn’t have been given a conclusion that indicates that his thoughts about kids have now changed for the better.
This seems logical, but sometimes if there are too many story threads, some can get lost, and their endings never happen. The reader or viewer can be left with questions about what happened or even frustrated that a subplot was introduced and never finished.
As you revise your manuscript or screenplay, please keep track of your subplots and make sure they conclude at some point. Their endings should have some impact or meaning to the main story, and if they don’t, they aren’t necessary to include.
Can a subplot begin before or end after the main story? Yes. Grant’s subplot begins before he and Ellie are invited to the island and ends after they leave. But a subplot shouldn’t drag on much longer past the ending of the main story.
A subplot’s purpose is to enhance the main plot by being character-driven or story-driven. Subplots should have a definite arc, with a beginning, middle, and end, and a subplot must link to the main story.
What are some subplots in novels, TV shows, or movies that you’ve noticed lack connection to the main story or have no conclusion? Leave a comment and let me know!
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!