How to Make Parrallel Storylines Work



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  • How to Make Parrallel Storylines Work

    My screenplay is about an estranged mother and daughter, and after months of rolling the idea around in my head, I have decided that, if it can be pulled off, the script would work best if both of their lives were played out in the story. It's really the daughter's story, which all takes place in present day, however, the mother's life is looked back upon over the course of 18-20 years.

    What I would really like to know, is if there are any key suggestions to making this work effectively, because I know that flashbacks like this aren't exactly smiled upon in this industry. Are there any films out already where two storylines running parallel work well?

  • #2
    Parallel Storylines

    If I am understanding correctly I believe ...YA YA SISTERHOOD has a smiliar storyline. It's Bullock's character in present day with her mom and then her mom when she was younger. And with that I thought it was an interesting movie. Might be worth checking out for ya.

    I don't really have any suggestions, sorry.


    • #3
      Re: Parallel Storylines

      Thankyou, that was the only film I could think of too. Well, besides "The Notebook," but I don't want my script to connect the two eras through something like a book.


      • #4
        The Godfather part two tells two stories. Vito growing up in 1920s NY and Michael Corleone running the family in the 70s.

        You'll notice in stories like this that we enter and leave on events which lead back to the parrallel story, essentially establishing/dramatizing why these two stories are related.


        • #5
          the hours

          How about The Hours?


          • #6
            Re: the hours

            Joy Luck Club; the book and the movie
            Love Medicne; which I think is only a book.


            • #7
              Re: the hours

              What is it about these movies/scripts/stories that you think makes it work? It's been hard to determine this myself, I think because I know my story so well, and though it's not confusing for me, it could very well be for someone else who is reading it for the first time.


              • #8
                I'm not sure I see the difficulty here - if both stories are compelling and thematically linked, there really shouldn't be any problem telling two stories at the same time, even if one is delegated to the sub-plot which just casts light on the real events (i.e. the mother's tale, interspersed with events showing her daughter making similar mistakes, even though they've never met). As long as you tell two whole stories, the flashbacks won't seem like just a cheap way of relaying information.

                If you want a series based on parallel plots, 'Carnivale' always has two storylines: Ben Hawkins and the carnies on one hand and Brother Justin on the other, representing good and evil, who probably won't meet until the final episode. You could even argue 'Lost' does, what with life on the island being one story and the flashbacks being another.


                • #9
                  "Fried Green Tomatoes" worked.


                  • #10
                    How about getting the scripts for all the movies mentioned here (many of them chick flicks, which is interesting...) and see exactly how they did it? When did they cut from one story to the other? What thematic elements (emotions, objects, places, music, etc.) did they use to link the stories? How do they tie everything up? You could be really compulsive and make up charts for each of them: page #-# on story A, ##-## on story B, link = ???, etc.

                    It's a bit like writing a symphony (more so than usual, that is -- when you have parallel tracks, whether or not they take place in different time periods).



                    • #11
                      Two Stories In One Film

                      Not just chick flicks... chick flicks that began as novels (and use that story structure because the novels did).

                      I think this is tough to pull off - which is why have that Greek Unity of Event warning us against doing it. There's a good chance that each story will undercut the other story, making them less than the sum of their parts.

                      And even if your story works on an artistic level, I'm not sure it will work for the audience. They tend not to make much money (even if they began as best selling novels and Oprah bookclub selections). YA-YA made around $65 million, but WHEN HARRY MET SALLY made $100 million and MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING made *over* $125 million. Even with more *names* in the cast and the whole Oprah thing, YA-YA made less money. So that may be a strike against the script when you take it to market.

                      I'd say proceed with caution, and consider taking the same route to screen as YA YA and FRIED GREEN... write it as a novel.

                      - Bill

                      PS: I wish COLD MOUNTAIN (also based on a novel) would have just told one story or the other. The guy trying to return home was interesting, and the wife trying to keep the farm going was interesting, but instead of getting a love story (with each fighting to get to the other) it ended up a muddled mess - each story undercutting the other. I would have rather they just picked *one* story to tell.


                      • #12
                        Re: Two Stories In One Film

                        I agree about "Cold Mountain." I thought the struggle to reunite during bloody wartime was a great story with their individual struggles to survive only being the "window dressing" to the main story. But the movie forced the audience to split their emotional committment in two different directions instead of focusing only on the two lovers trying to be together.


                        • #13
                          Re: Two Stories In One Film

                          Thanks for the comments. I also think it's something that is hard to pull off, and though I have confidence in my writing, it's experience with that type of structure that I can admit I am lacking. I think I'm going to just write it from the daughter's perspective, and once I have the first draft, if I feel like something is missing, or I think it will fit, I'll try it with the other one.

                          Thanks again to those who have commented, if anyone else has any suggestions, I am still open to comments about how to make it work, because the two stories are what I really want to tell.


                          • #14
                            Re: Two Stories In One Film

                            The only advice I can give is to have each story line impact the other by changing our understanding and expectations of the story lines.


                            • #15
                              Re: Two Stories In One Film

                              i think this is one of those things that's completely dependent on the execution and no one can tell you how to make it work until they see what you've done and spot what's wrong or right with it. and bear in mind that all of the examples given to you are from adaptations and not original works.