Do you start out knowing all of the subplots? Or do they tumble and bump into each other along the way? Are there certain ways you like to develop subplots? Or do they just come to you? Are they villain driven?
As I believe I’ve said before, I don’t recommend my method. I never know what the hell I’m doing in the beginning. I just write. Characters show up. Some of them are interesting enough they develop their own plot lines. Some of those I have to put the kibosh on because they’re cluttering up the story (good-bye, Mort). Some of them echo the main plot or act as a foil to the main plot, and they deepen what’s happening in the story as a whole, so I keep them (hello, Max and Button). So for the first discovery draft, I just let them happen. After that, as always, I analyze. And to analyze I go back to basic plot structure.
One of the major problems of this season is that it’s so damn complex. Finch has to be a professor and deal with students, Shaw is still selling perfume and driving the getaway car for thieves, Reese is buried under paperwork while trying to save people, and only the Machine knows what Root is doing. And then there are the numbers . . .
“Nautilus:” Samaritan is recruiting, luring a brilliant young mathematician into danger to dismantle a Blackwater analog that’s in competition with Samaritan. Finch tries to save her, but in the end, it’s Samaritan who rescues Claire and enlists her on its side. This is not good.
Which brings us to “Wingman.” Continue reading
I began to watch a John Sayles movie called Lone Star several years ago and almost turned it off because it kept switching to new characters with new problems. I can’t remember now how many–six? eight?–but I was completely confused. Fortunately, the writing was great and the actors were exceptional, so I stuck around. And as I watched, those multiple stories slowly converged, and as they converged, they added layers to each other. What had seemed like fairly straight forward character stories became complex, what happened in one story shifted the other, plot points took on different meanings, and I couldn’t look away. As I remember, I didn’t understand the impact of everything until the very last lines of the very last scene. It was a perfect inverted pyramid plot, everything resting on the final words.
This episode reminded me of that the first time I saw it. Continue reading
Leverage has five members in its community which is a problem if you want to arc your characters by showing how the events of their stories change them and make them grow. One solution is to skip the character arcs and just do action stories, but that leaves a story with characters who become boring because they always react the same way, always do the same thing, Trying to arc each team member in every episode is just as bad; it results in truncated, chaotic plots and not much growth. A third option, giving an episode over to a single team member, would be almost as bad because it would kill the focus on community that makes this show so strong. The Leverage writers went with a different solution: giving characters their own subplots at different times in the series, making sure those subplots are integrated completely into the main plot so the character growth stuff never stops the main con plot in its tracks. “The Juror #6 Job” is a great example of this use of subplot. Continue reading
I watched three TV episodes this week about teams of good guys battling a mastermind who communicated with minions using ear coms. Two of them aired in the past week, the other is several years old, but the basic plot was the same: bring down the mastermind. The difference was in the way the stories used their subplots, and it was a big difference.
(Important Note: This is NOT a writing technique, it’s a critical approach. Don’t do this for your own stories, it’ll make you insane.) Continue reading