Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Do We Show The B-Story?

Outlining a story is largely a problem of representation. When I outline, I begin with a generic structure and I fill in the gaps. In the end, what I have is a snapshot of the story and the beginnings of a synopsis. I focus on the A-Story because that is the most important part. That is where the primary action takes place. But in my latest outline I have a problem. Some of the subplots are rather healthy stories on their own. They tie back into the main plot, since part of what is happening in them is creating the antagonism for the A-story, but the outline for the A-story becomes very cluttered if we try to include much more than a reference to the subplots. What I have considered doing is outlining each plot separately, using the same generic structure. That isn’t hard to do, but it becomes a question of timing. In the novel, the various plots will all be taking place in and around each other, but how to tie the plot lines back together.

In the outline for the A-story, the reference to the B-story is supposed to come at about page 90. They cross each other at the midpoint, page 166. As we move to the third act, page 256, the two stories merge, but that tells us nothing about what state the B-story is in when we reach those points. The B-story can draw a great deal from the A-story, so we don’t need as much detail. By the time we get to page 90, we could have a B-story that is in full swing, or we could have some setup to do. In most cases, I think what we find is that the A-story incorporates enough elements of the B-story into it that we don’t have to worry so much about setup when we reach it. The two stories play out in the same world, so a lot of the details of the story are implied or are happening in the background.

In the case of the story I am referring to, the A-story involves Sara and a woman and child. Sara’s actions center on a man who is involved in the making a movie. Now, one of the sub-plots is that that man is attempting to get Kelly’s father to resolve some issues with his daughter. His goals are hindered by Sara’s goals and Sara’s goals are hindered by his. A third plot involves Neal and Kelly’s mother, but Neal is trying to help Sara, so what he is doing there may be hindered by what Sara is doing and what he is doing to help Sara my take a backseat to what he is doing with Kelly’s mother.

But how do we show all of that? If I were a movie guy, I would use a storyboard, layout each scene and we would have the whole script in a nutshell. But movie scripts tend to be less complicated. We have more space in a novel and more time, so we can show more detail in the subplots. For now, I think I’ll just work out the details of the subplots and see if I can draw a connection between them. Who knows, maybe I will draw out a storyboard, just to see where it all fits.