Writing Tip of the Week: Subplots – Part Two

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.

Subplots END

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.

Final Thoughts

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!

Writing Tip of the Week: Subplots – Part One

The subplot.  Most stories have at least one, and others have several.  Whether it’s known as a subplot or a B-story, these can help enhance your narrative, add depth to your characters, or give the reader a breather when things get too intense in the main story.

Let’s talk about subplots!

What is a Subplot?

A subplot is a secondary story connected to the main story, either directly or indirectly.  It can include the main character, or it can be related to a side character whose actions in the subplot will affect the main story at some point.  

As stated in the intro, there can be more than one, but all should wind up intersecting with the main story at some point.  Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm do this masterfully, weaving multiple storylines into the main one by the end of the episode.  

In Jurassic Park (which I will use for my examples in this post), we are introduced to two subplots early in the film: Dr. Grant’s dislike of children; and Dennis Nedry’s deal with Dodgson to steal the dinosaur embryos.

Let’s talk about the qualities of a subplot using these examples.

Subplots have PURPOSE

You ever watch a movie where a subplot is introduced that leads absolutely nowhere?  There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to exist other than to eat up time.  A compelling subplot has a reason to exist.  It can be either character-driven or story-driven, but by the end, it’s clear why it was part of the story.

Dr. Grant’s dislike of children is a character-driven subplot.  We are shown this side of Grant early, so when he meets Lex and Tim on the island, we already know his opinions about kids, which gives us a baseline for character growth.

Nedry being paid to steal the embryos is a story-driven subplot.  His actions in getting the embryos – shutting off power and fences – lead to the T-Rex escape that catapults the plot of the film forward.  

Subplots ENHANCE

Subplots need to add something to the overall story.  They are only useful if they impact something happening in the main story.  A subplot needs to give us insight into who a character is, where the story might lead, or emphasize one of the story’s themes.

Dr. Grant’s character-driven subplot enhances his character as he’s placed in situations where he has to rescue Lex and Tim, save Tim’s life, and rely on Lex to reboot the park’s security system.  His views on kids evolve as the story unfolds through the film’s final moments, where Lex and Tim are asleep next to him in the helicopter.

Likewise, Nedry’s story-driven subplot enhances the narrative by causing the chaos that leads to dinosaurs escaping their paddocks and roaming free around the island.  Since Nedry has locked everyone out of the system, the only solution is for the power to be shut off entirely and the system rebooted, which then causes the Raptors to escape.  All of Nedry’s actions help to move the story forward.

But Wait, There’s More!

Next time, we’ll explore a couple more subplot characteristics.  See you then!

What’s your favorite subplot from a movie or TV show?  Leave a comment and let me know!