How 2 Develop Story Sub-Plots

Sub-plots are great but are you aware of them? It's probably worth looking at what makes the main plot and what a sub-plot is used for.

To identify the main plot you need to identify the protagonist and to do that you need to know what the movie is about - what its key question is. A lot of people think 'Titanic' is about a ship that sinks and that Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio's character) is the protagonist. He's actually the catalyst for Rose's transformation from suicidal society fiance to lover of life, adventurer and someone who fought the expectations of the time and her position in society.

She showed how much she had changed from the begriming of the film by fighting to survive the disaster that took her 'heart' to the ocean floor. Apologies for anyone who hasn't see 'Titanic' but check it out with the above description in mind. 

So, once you've identified the story, you can identify whose story it is and then where that plot and that character are central to a scene in the movie. These scenes are main plot. Anything else should be sub-plot.

Sub-plot adds dimension to secondary and supporting characters and is constructed and driven just like the main plot. There are character arcs, tension, obstacles and plot points. The main difference is that the sub-plots can be used to support or counterpoint the main plot's theme.

Examples are always good so let's try one.

In 'Ferris Beuller's Day Off', his sister carries a sub-plot. She is uptight to counter his relaxed attitude and she rubs everyone up the wrong way, unlike Ferris.

But hang on a minute. Is this movie about Ferris or is he the catalyst? Is he there to drive the development and transformation of Alan Ruck's character? Is Ferris Bueller's Day Off about Cameron? You bet it is. After a day with Ferris, Cameron Frye goes from nervous, sick student, scared to death of his father to taking charge of his life and standing up to his old man.

So where does Ferris' sister's sub plot stand now? Well, it now mirrors what Cameron is going through. Even though Jeanie spends most of the day separate from Ferris, her life is changed for the positive by him. Her conversation with Charlie Sheen in the police station would have been completely different if she hadn't told him how much she hated Ferris.

So, when thinking about your story, think hard about your main plot and then add sub-plots for your secondary characters. Decide if they will support or oppose the main plot. Think about writing them as a separate story before working them into your main plot if you're having problems.

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