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Entries in Rocky training montage (1)


A Few Notes About Screenplay Subplots and Love Stories

True Love

Writer and teacher Cynthia Whitcomb gives a great synopsis of subplots in her book, The Writer’s Guide to Writing Your Screenplay.

The main plot—the A Story—always concerns the main character and his dramatic tension: What does he want and will he get it?

Subplots—the B Story, the C Story, etc.—run throughout the main narrative, reinforcing the main plot and holding it together. Subplots should have at least three beats throughout the story to work effectively. 

“If a moose sees something three times, it will charge it,” she says, meaning there’s a power in threes that doesn’t trigger in our brains (or a moose’s brain, apparently) on just second sight.

And subplots can be introduced at anytime, as long as the first of three beats isn’t in Act 3. As with films having a beginning, middle and end—as with a sequence within a film having a beginning, middle and end—subplots need a beginning, middle, and end, too. 

Love Stories: Why You?

The main subplot, the B Story, is often a love story, and Whitcomb outlines exactly how a love story best works in film: It answers the question, “Why you?”

For women, it’s often a wounded knight. For men, it’s often a woman at her moment of vulnerability. But the lovers, male or female, must have lives that overlap somehow and show a promise of how they might work out, even if they don’t, i.e. “A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where are they going to build a house?”

The love stories that work best:

  1. They are twins. Like Scarlett and Rhett, they are the same person in two bodies.
  2. They are opposites. Together, they equal one, like yin and yang. He has a career, no life. She has a life, no career. (One specific pair of opposites is the Lifeforce and the Sleepwalker, a love in which one character is going through life with blinders on, and the other removes them.)

Love Story Montage?

Whitcomb warns: Don't make characters fall in love in a montage sequence! As much a matter of taste as good storytelling, montages can not effectively answer the “Why you?” question. They are cliche and undeveloped as a love story device. Save the montage for something cool, Rock.

And Whitcomb add that there can be "no picnics" for lovers in Act II or Act III, unless there’s an iceberg about to slam into the boat.

No picnics goes for subplots, as well as the main plot. At no time in the middle of a narrative should things be perfectly okay. If everything's great in the middle of your story, you haven't gotten to the story yet.