Many writers make the mistake of believing that their one idea is enough story. I know, cause I’ve been there, and if I was there, a whole bunch of other clueless writers are certainly there. They don’t know about sub-plots.
No matter how short your story is, it cannot be just one idea. There are other bunch of “unnecessary people, places and events” that if elaborated upon, can help drive the entire story forward. And if for nothing, for a relief from the main story. Helping with the suspense, maybe, or just simply for a stretched-out feel.
When we open our mouths to narrate the events of how things happened, there are, sometimes, side gists flesh out the whole story, whether in a major or minor way. Let’s take writing about a robbery incident in a banking hall for example. The masked robbers (John and David, maybe) have got everyone shaken up. They’re piling up the money in ’em bags, yeah? That’s the main gist. The side gist could be that a cashier/teller is stashing some of the stray cash in her handbag for keeps. Another side gist could be a security guy sneakily clicking on some buttons (to alert the police, or something).
We have the main robbery story, and these two sub stories which should have later consequences. Maybe the CCTV camera had the cashier on record. This would need resolution much later. And maybe the police were alerted by the security man in time. They surround the building before the robbers get enough time to escape. Now, these side-stories, are distinct stories but work together to help the main story. They help to flesh out this robbery scene.
There are so many things that could have happened before and after those scenes. Maybe the cashier’s got money problems. She’s got bills to pay which caused her to take advantage of the robbery. Maybe the security man has made all efforts to no avail to prove his worth at work. He finally gets the chance at the robbery scene, and will later be rewarded for it.
Before you know it, you have these stories spawning, and supporting the main story of a two-membered squad (John and David). This squad, probably, have been well disrespected by their peers. They’ve maybe got the motive to get rich quick robbing a bank, so that they can finally gain some respect (or something).
What if they somehow escape the police?And after later rendezvous, we find out that the security man’s secretly dating John’s daughter. What if the cashier is a close friend to David’s wife who he’s never seen? (Or something)
So, about the sub-plots….
Having a fantastic idea of two robbers robbing a bank can turn into something really elaborate. And with the help of sub-stories. Movie scripts are not a one-way traffic. They can be really boring if you’re to stick with only the main plot.
Sub-plots can also be useful for overcoming writer’s block; it’s as easy as following a vague lead and making it clearer. While you’re trying to reconcile the sub story with the main story, you find yourself writing more – and not having writer’s block.
Be careful though, you could spend so much time on the sub-plots, and ending up with an ensemble movie script (many main actors). Here, we may not be sure what story is the leading story, but isn’t that beautiful? A bunch of elaborate stories. I wouldn’t discredit this kind of “mistake” though. This is because I’ve made such “mistake”, and I’m loving that script!
As illustrated above, this is where the real work’s at. Such a painful but rewarding experience interweaving all these details, and in different scenes. Very laborious. But it has to be done if you want to get people to acknowledge and fantasize about your story. Another of the many reasons writing a movie could take a year or more: implementing sub-stories.
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Isedehi Aigbogun, also known as ISD, is a staunch academic, holding a B.A., M.A., and PhD (in view) in English Language.
She’s a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analyst, Consultant, and Film Scriptic.