The One Where He Discusses Subplots and Substories

I just went back and listened to Chris’s talk on substories vs subplots on Jim’s podcast from 2017.

Let me state what I think I’m understanding, so the seers can correct me.

A subplot exists in the same storyspace as the story form, and is a shorter duplicate of the storyform. A subplot elevates one of the Overall Characters and deals with the theme of the story in a different way. The characters don’t change types or roles, except for the OC who is elevated to MC during the subplot. A subplot tells the same story, in short form, and gets a different point from it. It’s a way of showing the theme in a different light in a quick sketch. (See Armando’s chapter, Characters are subplots). Think of all those Shakespeare comedies where the lesser romance is going on while the main romance is going on too. The subplot is a kind of shadow of the main plot.

A substory exists in the same narrative space as the first story form, but is a separate storyform, meaning that the MC might be the IC in this story, the IC might be just an OC and so on. (Think Pulp Fiction, or Han Solo’s story in Star Wars). According to Chris, this is often a great way to solve a problem in the main story, a kind of second process that has to be completed, and deliver a result, before the main story can complete (for all you software developers out there, a background thread).

So, for a substory, use Dramatica to create your second story form, bring it into Subtext, voila.

For a subplot, sounds like a better method might be just to add steps for characters in Subtext itself and make sure they line up with the story form.

Let the throwing of water bottles commence. I got teargassed in front of the White House last week, I can take anything you’ve got.

I just used Subtext to give me help with a 14k novelette. Worked very well. First thing I’ve completed in 3 years, as I was struggling to get my writing superpowers back. Now feel like I saw the process from inside.

To my astonishment, because I had the basics scenes worked out, I also wrote 8000 words in one day. That’s a first. Hey, I’m not saying it was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but it was good enough for what it needed to be.


Good on you!

Good on you and Jim!

I can verify what you are saying about substories, but I’ve never actually heard that take on subplots.

So what’s your take on subplots, then? Don’t leave me hanging, man!

oh, I made a little movie of biking through the BLM installation on 16th Street NW, across from Lafayette Park, the day after the paint went down.

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I tend to disbelieve subplots exist. I usually think it’s shorthand for saying, “We split the group up into smaller groups, and we’re following them both, one over here and one over there.”

BUT, Dead Poets Society extracts one of the kids (Todd?) and makes his story larger than that of the others, without making him the MC or the Protagonist. So, if that’s what you (or Chris) mean by subplots, then I’m all for it. They’re still super rare.

well, there seems to be a consensus:

One blogger discussing Truby: “A subplot character has a specific function: to show us how someone else in the hero’s shoes handled his situation differently. The subplot is used as a point of comparison.”

someone else:

" to highlight the moral struggle that the protagonist undergoes. The subplot main character struggles with the same moral problem, but answers it in a different way."

But the same author suggests that the Montagues vs the Capulets is a subplot in Romeo and Juliet. I don’t think that’s right. I would say that’s an Overall Story.

But there DOES seem to be ongoing confusion about substory vs subplot.

Have we analyzed Romeo and Juliet by the way? Who’s the MC? Romeo or Juliet? The focus is obviously on the RS. It’s like a RomCom but turns into a RomBomb.

It’s been far too long since I read that play.

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According to the official Dramatica analysis, Romeo is the MC and Juliet is the IC. And you’re right – Montagues vs Capulets is OS and actually Success – the families stop fighting at the end – but Bad of course.

In terms of subplot/substory I think the Shakespeare comedies you mention (Midsummer Night’s Dream, etc.) might be better examples but I don’t know if they’ve been analyzed.

I’ll have to listen to that podcast – I’d like to know more about this.

So in other words, the same structural story points but different illustrations?

So if you then have one of your OS characters “change” at the end (for example) have you broken the story?

don’t think so. For example in Mozart’s Magic Flute (which I know because Bergman made a tv show/movie of it), Pappageno changes by the end, imo, he’s now coupled with Pappagena. They are the oafish mirroring subplot of the Tamino/Pamina story par excellence.

And Papageno is the Sidekick, thus one of the OS characters, and so is elevated to be the MC in his romance story. Seems to fit.

It can be very light, done in three or so scenes. Remember Star Trek Episode “Gamesters of Triskelion?” Kirk has a romance with silver bikini girl, and Chekov is being harrassed by Ugly Girl. Chekhov has the subplot. (one of the few non-DC Fontana episodes written by a woman, fwiw, someone with several “amazon woman warrior” type stories under her belt.)

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You know, thinking about this, seems to me subplot is mostly a convention of dramatic form, rather than novelistic form. Seems as if it’s most used when a) you need to let some time pass in the main story and have it emerge “some time later” and b) used for relief from the main story. Subplot is a very specific kind of thing done for very specific reasons that seems practical and theatrical, to me.

Seinfeld is a good case of subplots, but used to different effect. The Contest has the main story, the contest, we see how Jerry the MC handles it (he’s dating Marla the virgin and he watches children’s cartoons to kill his urges), then see different ways the other character handle it. George, his mother, the sponge bath nurses. Elaine and JFK Jr. Kramer (“I’m out.”) No change of story form.

Here’s someone else’s perspective on subplots in Tokien.

HI @GetSchwifty,

I like a lot of things Truby teaches also. From the official comparisons to other story structure paradigms, his seems to be the closest to Dramatica. So I tend to apply some of his teachings and “Dramaticalize” them. Lol.

Truby says that the subplot runs parallel to the main story(OS in my process) and never intersects with it. It also should end just before the main climax of the main form.

So how I craft subplot is to draft one of the OS players as the lead, and employ that characters’ unique Concern and OS Issue in unique ways to explore things differently in a “things could have gone this way” tangent. You could even do it with the counterpoint or other elements in the Issue quad to create reader engagement/excitement.


very specific, nice.

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But aren’t all subplots part of the OS? I don’t think “how someone else handles the situation differently” is talking about the MC. I think it’s talking about the Protagonist.

Hmmm… I think we’d need an example. To see a change, we need an MC perspective.

In both a subplot and a substory, the MC (which is just a how the Story Mind perceives a character in a storyform) is a different character than the main storyform’s MC. In Papageno’s story in the Magic Flute, Papagena is the MC in his own romance. It reflects on Tamino’s romance with Pamina, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Tamino’s story, except peripherally. A substory works using the same story form, but it’s a different ‘instantiation’, to use OOP terminology, of the storyform. If you’re an OOP programmer, the storyform is the class, the main plot and the subplot are instances of the class.

A subplot is one storyform (class), the A Class, and 2 instantiations of the class A() and A`()

A substory is two storyforms (classes), A class and B class, and 1 instantiation of each A() and B().

At least, that’s how I’m thinking of it these days, I should hastily add.

Reading this thread I’ve been sort of confused what people mean by “subplot”. Are we talking about the generic usage of the term among writers (which is sort of all over the place)? Or are we specifically discussing the concept given by Chris in the podcast @GetSchwifty mentioned?

Also, @GetSchwifty, which 2017 podcast are you referencing and where do we find it? Thanks!

I think the idea is to distinguish between the two ideas (ie, discuss Chris’s concept).

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I would argue that a different MC=different storyform=substory.

I guess you’re blending them because they are storyforms with all the same data?

go to the last fifth or so of the podcast, jim presents chris’s directions.

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storyform = class
storyform instantion = mainplot of subplot

but yes, to answer your question.

towards the end of podcast, about the last fifth.