Screenwriter Blake Snyder and his Save the Cat method really made the term/lingo “B” story and “A” story super popular. And I think sometimes that damn “B” story gets us all confused a bit, right?
So, basically let’s just go over the terms first.
What the heck is an A story and a B story?
The A story is the book or movie’s big essence. People call it the “dramatic” core. It is the big plotline that the hero of the story follows on her journey.
The B story is the subplot basically. It supports the “A” story. It sometimes feels absolutely unrelated.
The FlyingWrestler blog defines it.
“It’s a secondary story that has its own beginning, middle and end, and is focused on its own problem, separate from but intertwined with the A Story.”
The scriptmag writes ,
“The B Story is your character’s secondary motivation or mission – the OTHER thing they have to accomplish. Your B Story may be a second problem or issue that your main character has to fix. And while your A-Story presents itself at the inciting incident and is solidified at the end of the first act with the acceptance of the adventure, your B-Story often can’t be identified UNTIL the second act begins, because it’s what is illuminated by the adventure beginning.
The FlyingWrestler blog again says,
“Just like the main A Story, the B Story’s main character should have a problem involving something external, which has its own significant life stakes. That means the problem isn’t only an internal issue, involving their need to grow and change in some way.”
So, the question becomes: Does my story have a B story? Or is it all A?
You don’t have to have a B story, but it can be helpful.
“The classic use of B Story in a movie is a romantic relationship that is secondary to a non-romantic A Story. The potential romantic partner often pressures the main character, intentionally or not, to deal with their “stuff,” and consider changing. But as with most such internal growth, the character doesn’t engage in it willingly, with “growth” as the goal. No, characters (like real people) tend to avoid change, until really significant external problems force them into it. Typically the pressures of both the A and B Story problems combine to do that. But even then, the hero usually doesn’t really change until some key moment in the final act where they (usually) snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“But first, both A and B Story usually reach a rock bottom “All is Lost” moment. So if the B Story is about a relationship, it’s usually broken and over at that point, as are the main character’s hopes for their A Story goal. They will have one last chance to try to solve both in the final act.Flying Wrestler
If the B Story is a romantic relationship, something has to be in the way of it. It has to be focused on a conflict, and not going well. If two people fall for each other and get together and have a lot of sex, etc., without some looming threat to the relationship, that’s not a story. That’s a positive development for the main character. And we audiences get bored by positive developments. We thrive on problems and conflicts.
Scriptmag gives a great example:
The Wizard of Oz – Dorothy’s A-Story is to find the Wizard and get home, but the B-Story becomes helping Oz and her new friends. She had no idea she was going to have to do that until the adventure began.
Usually when a crisis happens the B story acts like John Wayne in a movie and comes in and saves the A story. They merge and the reader goes, “Ah! They were connected the whole damn time. Doh!”
This is true about life, too, right? We all want to become writers, but then we have this B story of another career or self-sabotage and we might resist it, and then it’s like? Will our B story come save our A story?
But that’s about us as writers, not our actual books. So let’s get back to that.
The B story or subplot changes how your reader sees the main plot, right?
What does the B story actually do for you? Because it’s all about you, right? Of course it is!
It allows you to bulk out your story, but it can sometimes add too much bulk to your story.
It can help with pacing and structure. It’s especially helpful if you make things really dangerous for those minor characters early on while things are kind of still in the set-up for the main characters. This is a bit of a variant from Snyder’s plot form, which tends to insert that B Story at the end of act one.
It allows you to skip boring scenes in the A story sometimes. How does it do that? By creating a jump to another character or another moment/interest.
If you do use other characters to carry that B story, then you have to make sure the reader is interested enough in those other characters. Like in Lord of the Rings. Tolkein puts everyone into smaller units. They each get their own goals. Each group gets their own plotlines. And in the finale every one of those groups matter.
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
Don’t be afraid to be complicated. A good novel isn’t a picture book and you want there to be a subplot.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Don’t be a one-trick wonder. Have multiple goals and live life to the fullest. Don’t just be an A story.
THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT IN RANDOM THOUGHTS
For more about Lego theft, check out here on NPR.
More about UFOs? Check out this NYT article.
Here’s the Flying Wrestler’s take that we’ve quoted.
And the peeping-tom goat is all here.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.
We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.
Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every other week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!