Don’t Confuse Your Subplot For Your Parallel Plots

Screenwriting is a unique literary form. It consists of a main plot, a subplot and/or parallel plots.

What is the main plot in your movie script?

The main plot is the main surface story which tracks the main character’s goal. It contains the main conflict; i.e the protagonist fighting the antagonist. Basic screenwriting stuff.

These are secondary plots that help pad out your script. It must occupy fewer pages in your screenplay. There are normally one or two secondary plots in a single film script. If there are too many, it may signal the screenwriter has issues with the main plot.

Secondary plots are divided into subplots and parallel plots. These screenwriting terms are often used interchangeably. They are the same, more often than not, but there are some nuances that make each distinct in its own right.


A subplot usually involves the interaction of a secondary character with one or more of the main characters. Subplots generally explore alternative, and often opposing, aspects of the central theme to give the main story a well-rounded appeal. They can also deepen characterization by exploring the characters’ flaws, desires, vulnerabilities, and fears.

Subplots should explore the primary dramatic tension in your movie script. For instance, if there is a romantic subplot, it should explore the dramatic question relating to love.

Parallel Plot

Parallel plots are often referred to as B-plots, C-plots and so on. They are related to subplots, but they function as more independent dramatic units in your screenplay.

They are often interactions between secondary or tertiary characters. Parallel plots may not involve the main character at all. Nor are they necessarily related to the main plot. However, they should relate to the theme, at the very least.

The further a parallel plot drifts away from the main plot, the greater the danger of it no longer enhancing the main story.

By definition, parallel plots are not as fully developed as either the main plot or the subplot. However, both subplots and parallel plots should have their own three act structures.

One test to determine if a parallel plot is vital to your screenplay is to see if the story still makes sense if it is removed. Also, does it enhance the main character’s arc in any way?

Be mindful of including too many storylines in your screenplay purely for entertainment value. Otherwise, you run the risk of distracting and confusing your audience.

Do you need assistance distinguishing your main plot from your subplot? I’m here to help. I’m offering my screenplay consultancy services through Script Firm. Click on the bluish link and get all the details.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Pearl Molosiwa says:

    can both subplots and parallel plots be told in flashbacks?

    1. In theory they can, but how will the audience feel?

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