Screenplays are comprised of a main plot and one, two or sometimes three subplots. Although three subplots might be too much for a screenwriter to handle, unless you’re writing TV scripts.
What are subplots?
Subplots are secondary plots used in film scripts to enhance the main plot of your screenplay. I typically prefer one or two subplots, but larger ensemble pieces can get away with four or five. Try juggling all those story lines in your screenplay and really test your screenwriting skills.
Why add subplots to your screenplay?
Subplots can take several forms, but they must perform at least one of the following story functions:
- Add thematic or plot dimension to the main plot
- Illustrate different points of view of the central question
- Test the character’s motivation and ability to achieve their main goal
- Show different aspects of the main character’s personality
If your subplot doesn’t do at least one of these, it runs the risk of being a standalone parallel or b plot that doesn’t service the main story. A good test is asking how the main story is affected if a subplot is removed.
Typical film suplots include:
1) LOVE INTEREST
This is the most common and does not necessarily have to be romantic. It can be a pet, family, friend or prized possession. As long as the main character has an emotional attachment, it is a bona fide love interest. The love interest is often a companion to help the main character achieve their goal or add tension when they are threatened.
2) CHARACTER ARC
This relates any spiritual, emotional or intellectual growth the main character undergoes during the course of the story. It relates to their inner goal; what they need rather than want.
These can be positive or negative traits that show the audience an additional side of the main character. They could have an addiction, be impulsive, selfish or gullible. They often add interest in the main character and generate sympathy,
These create empathy for the main character and highlights their fears, traumas and emotional scars. These include fear of heights or a reluctance to form relationships based on bad experiences in the past.
These relate to the inner workings of the main character and highlight either repressed or postponed activities such as learning a new skill or visiting a new place. The main plot acts as an inspiration to act on these desires.
6) COMIC RELIEF
These subplots diffuse sustained tension in the main plot. They may or may not involve the main character. They are often minor subplots or a “running gag” or RUNNER.
There’s a lot of room to try out different subplots as you write. The main thing is that they elevate the main plot to create a well rounded screenplay.
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