While the plot drives the story, it’s the subplot that carries the theme of your script. In The Crow the plot is of a young man coming back from the dead to kill those who killed him and his wife. The subplot was The Crow giving Eric Draven the power and guidance to act out his revenge.
The subplot often involves a relationship of some kind, the theme being love, loss or staying strong. This gives the characters in the script a chance to be “human”, to show them as real people with relationships and feelings.
Many films contains several subplots but this can either cause or be because of a weak plot. The genre of the script you’re writing will have a big impact on the number of subplots you need. An all-out action movie will only need one or two, the focus being on the main plot. Just like the main plot the subplots will have a beginning, middle and end and will interweave with the plot in some way. Subplots should be looked at as the sizzle added to the steak of the plot.
How To Work Your Subplot Correctly
1. Your subplot will be a big part of the story - In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, the developing relationship between Harold Crick and Ana Pascal takes up a significant portion of Act II and Act III.
2. Weave your subplot into the main plot - The subplot has to intersect with the plot at sometime or else it has no purpose. This is extremely poor story structure. One of the best examples of a poor subplot would be in the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore. When Happy’s Grandma is taking into a home she is looked after by a mean, slave driving orderly. By the end of the movie she is by Happy’s side, away from the orderly, and with no action having been taken against him.
3. Some subplots start a film and are done before the plot begins - You’ll watch some movies and note that the plot doesn’t really kick in until Act II. This is often because the scriptwriter has either done a poor job of weaving the subplot and plot together or has fallen in love with the dynamic and forgotten the focus of the film.
4. Set your subplot apart from your plot - Your subplot should have a beginning, middle and end and flow along nicely. The subplot should weave into the plot at crucial moments in the script. If they don’t then they are subplots, they’re know as parallel plots. Parallel plots are TV devices, used because of limited time. Shows like The Simpsons often have both parallel plots and subplots running at the same time.
5. The main story and subplot show two different perspectives - The subplot gives you a chance you show the reader events from a different point of view. In Rocky, Apollo Creed’s trainer was worried that Rocky might prove to be a tougher opponent than originally thought.
6. Never let the subplot steal the main story’s focus - The main story should be the main focus, with subplots adding flavor to the story.
It may help you to write out a few bullet points on your plot and each subplot. Stick them on the adjacent wall in order of importance. Your plot would be first, then you need to assign each subplot to “B” story, “C” story, etc.