Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The B-Story

How important is the B-story to a novel? Depending on who you talk to, it may not be very important at all. If you’re getting your writing advice from literary agents and editors, you might not hear much about it at all. Most of what they talk about is the stuff they use to make their determination about whether they are interested in the book or not. Given that many will reject a manuscript based on the first few pages, the B-story occurs far too deep in a novel to become a major factor in the decision. If it’s terrible, yeah, an agent might reject the manuscript because of it, but the agent is already leaning one way or the other by the time he sees the B-story. Even if the agent requests a synopsis, the B-story doesn’t come into play because we say very little about the B-story in a synopsis. It doesn’t seem important at all.


But wait. Let’s not rule it out completely. In fact, if we consider some of the stories we’ve read, the B-story is hugely important. Take The Lord of the Rings for example. The A-story is about a hobbit, aided by friends, carrying a dangerous ring across dangerous lands to be destroyed. It’s a quest, pure and simple. But what would that story be without Frodo’s faithful companion, Samwise Gamgee? He is the heart of the B-story and without him the story would be very different. Or consider The Wizard of Oz. It is also a quest story, but rather than destroying something, Dorothy only wants to find The Wizard so she can go home. But can you imagine that story without the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion? Or what about The Neverending Story without the luck dragon?

I think you get my point. The B-story is a hugely important part of the overall book. We may not encounter these characters until deep into the story, but they may be the most memorable part of the story. If the A-story is the body of our book, the B-story is the heart. So, if you’re writing a book, don’t skimp on the B-story or you’ll kill the story.