Fresh approach for a subplot?



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  • Fresh approach for a subplot?

  • #2
    Corruption in the workplace or coworkers that violate the main character's sense of honor toward their job? People that surround the main character that offend him/her in some way? If they are in positions to affect the main character's job performance/solving the crime, that would create conflict.

    Perhaps the main character has a personal goal other than the main story? Maybe working out and getting buff and their lifestyle (main storyline) is a constant block to that personal goal (be it going to the gym or taking night classes and advancing their life/career or whatever the personal goal is).

    Is there a "side" character that engages the main character's emotions in some way? A homeless kid? A waitress teetering on living a real life or falling into the trap of drug abuse? And does the side character provide another means to flesh out, or more narrowly define who your main character is? Any such character would have to be affected by or introduced to the main story in some way, of course, or you couldn't have them there.

    Just a few immediate reactions off the top of my little brain...


    • #3

      The key to the subplot is, I think, relationships. That's why the standard troubled-family subplot works so well; you can riff on that to good effect, as follows:

      Perhaps in this case the protagonist becomes so wrapped up in his work that he brings it home, it stresses him out, he's morose with his family, and he drinks too much. But his wife is a tough, tough woman who loves her husband fiercely, and who makes it her mission to support this man whom she chose...and continues to her personal knight in shining armor. She's even tough enough to argue with him when he's being stubborn, so their relationship is a stormy one...but it endures.

      Finally, the plots converge when the antagonist tries to hurt your cop hero by getting to his children. You know what's the most dangerous animal in the wild? A mother watching over her young. This is often true of humans, too. The most soft-spoken Stepford wife turns into a Berserker when her children are threatened...and God help anyone who gets in her way.

      Okay, maybe that's too standard. But what if the cop is divorced and his wife is long-gone from the scene, and because he's paying alimony and child support he has to move back in with his aging mother?

      All the same rules apply...maybe even more so. Mom will figure out how to work a twelve-gauge real quick when and if it comes to it.


      • #4
        Re: Relationships.

        Yes, yes - I agree much on both letting the main character closest "environment" be part of the subplot and that relationships is great to "use" for a subplot, but, still, he, she, they cannot be to active and let the "hero" wanders around and only be helped. The "hero" may be supported and the subplot might create a stronger "hero", but our "hero" cannot get passive.

        I like the subplot in Traffic - the daughter going deeper and deeper into addiction - forcing the Michael Douglas-character to both use his brain AND his heart. The subplot also works as a reference to how the "drug world" really looks and he must enter that world in a way he didn't want or expected.

        Maybe that would be something to use for this story, but, well, what should that be - the daughter or wife getting kidnapped... Pretty overused too. Well I guess that it comes to the simple fact that it is HOW you show it that counts - there are no new/fresh conceps out there anylonger...



        • #5
          Re: Relationships.

          Well, you really COULD invent something off-the-wall. Maybe crazy Uncle Morty in the nursing home gives him a piece of advice that cracks the case for him.


          • #6
            subplot is part of the main plot

            The emotional conflict needs to be connected to the plot conflict in some way, or it's just tack on junk.

            Actually, in most thriller & action flicks the emotional conflict is (secretly) the *real* conflict and all of the car chases and shoot outs are just a way to explore that emotional conflict.

            Let's take a look at FACE/OFF...

            Swell shoot outs and stuff, but the real story is John Travolta's son gets shot by Nic Cage, Travolta dedicates his life to capturing Cage... and is so focused on revenge that his family life suffers. He is a cold husband and an absent father to his daughter. His family life goes to hell (that's what you would call the subplot, but really it's what propells the whole story!).

            Okay, so Travolta gets Cage, goes home to his wife and daughter and promises he'll take a desk job and be a real husband and father.... but neither really believes him... and for good reason because Cage may be in a coma but he's still going to destroy Travolta. He's planted a bomb *somewhere* in LA (Travolta's territory - where his family lives) and now Travolta must do that face-swap thing to get Cage's brother to tell him where the bombs are planted.

            But while Travolta is wearing Cage's face, Cage comes out of his coma, takes Travolta's face, kills all of the FBI people who know about the face-swap thing... and springs his brother from jail.

            Leaving Travolta stuck in jail for the rest of his life.

            While Cage is living Travolta's life, being a better father to his daughter and a better (more romantic) husband to his wife.

            Travolta has lost his family!

            Okay, to get his family back, he breaks out of jail. But the FBI are after him, and he has no place else to hide but with Cage's gang... and Cage's girlfriend... and Cage's son. Hmm, that's Cage's *family*! See how this familything is more than just some subplot, it's secretly the main plot?

            Now we get some of those cool John Woo action scenes... where Travolta (wearing Cage's face) must choose to risk his life to save Cage's son. Plus we have scenes where (to fit in to his new life) Cage (wearing Travolta's face) has to kick the ass of some guy trying to date-rape Travolta's daughter. And when we're not dealing with violence, we've got sex: Cage is a better husband to Travolta's wife, and Travolta is a more caring lover to Cage's girlfriend. Again - is this subplot or main plot? Cage *must* act like Travolta or he'll blow his cover, and vice versa with Travolta acting like Cage (and making wild terrorist monkey love with Gina Gershon).

            Later action scenes deal put Travolta's daughter between Travolta and Cage - will Travolta save his daughter or kill his enemy? Is he a good father or a man hell-bent on vengeance? See - even the John Woo action scenes are part of the emotional conflict (the "subplot")!

            I've done the same thing with DIE HARD and THE MATRIX and MAGNUM FORCE and THE MECHANIC and a whole bunch of other action flicks - they are really *secretly* about the emotional conflict, and use the action conflict as a way to *explore* the character's emotional conflict.

            Movies are about *people*. So what you're looking at as the "subplot" should be the most important part of your entire screenplay... it's the *people part*.

            So - find the emotional conflict that connects to your plot conflict.

            - Bill


            • #7
              Also look at THEME...

              THEME is that thing that connects all of the parts of your screenplay - it's the *purpose* for telling the story you are telling. Maybe a message, maybe you're making a point, maybe you're exploring some aspect of the human condition.

              First thing you have to do is know your characters. Not know what they look like (that's casting), know who they *are*. What is their big emotional fear? How are they connected to theme?

              Okay, my 18th film has been shooting for the past month and is just about to wrap.... SOFT TARGET is about a top secret hitman who can get past police protection to assassinate witnesses against the mob. One person has seen the hitman's face and lived - a woman. The reason why this hitman can bypass police? He's a detective. So the police department grabs their two most trustworthy detectives to find the woman and take her *somewhere* (don't tell us where) and when the beeper goes off, take her to the grand jury. They pick a random motel and WHAM! they are attacked. So the big question becomes - who can you trust? And that's where my theme came from. Every character has a *story purpose* (like the chief of detectives or an assassin disguised as a hotel maid) but they also have a *theme purpose*, too - and that provides character and subtext.

              So here's how I came up with my characters...
              What traits make you *not* trust someone?

              Can you trust someone who never shows their emotions?
              Can you trust someone who turns everything into a joke?
              Can you trust someone who is more intelligent than you are?
              Can you trust someone who is really moody?
              Can you trust someone who is too slick?
              Can you trust someone who always agrees with you?
              Can you trust someone who has serious substance abuse problems?
              Can you trust someone who is...

              Each of these theme traits are great doorways into character. And they are ways to show the differences in character, ways that will pop up again and again in the script (because the story keeps putting characters in situations where they must trust each other to survive... and situations where they can't trust each other).

              So the ability to TRUST (or not) is the big emotional problem in the screenplay, and (again) it's tied to the action story. This time it's tied in through theme - and my protagonist will have to learn to trust strangers if he's going to survive.


              That's not subplot - that's a part of the main plot that supplies the emotional conflict for the screenplay. It's all connected through theme (I'm exploring issues of trust... again). So what *theme* are you exploring, and how can you exploe that theme through an emotional conflict that is tied to your plot conflict?

              - Bill


              • #8
                Re: Also look at THEME...

                That's great advice and I'll be thinking of it when I do my latest rewrite. I think the craft side of my script is decent but reading through it, it feels a bit "slick," almost as if the read was too smooth or too easy.

                And after reading your post, I think part of the problem is that I didn't give my main character enough opportunity to act out the underlying theme, or anyway, I didn't give her enough layers of the onion to peel away.

                My underlying idea or theme is, "What violence or terrible deed are any of us capable of doing?" Given the right circumstances, I think each of us is capable of digging up that dark side.

                And to tell a story with a theme, it's just not enough to string together vignettes or "all the proper elements in the proper order."

                Now I'm going to go back and as a side piece of writing, flesh out the back stories and create situations that allow the main character to act out the theme and perhaps that will inspire me to get a little more flesh on the bones of my screenplay. I have plenty enough pages (116 pages total) so it's not volume that's the problem, it's "mass" that needs bulking up - more threads woven into the tapestry without increasing page numbers.


                • #9


                  • #10
                    Congrats, Bill, on the making of your new film.



                    • #11
                      Excellent example, Bill.

                      As the protag achieves his/her primary goal he/she also resolves the subplot issue. Of course, this means plot & subplot also drive the character arc.