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So, you’ve got a great idea for your screenplay. You’ve got an engaging protagonist. He’s got an internal character-arc which is preventing him from succeeding in his goal or quest. And it’s all in a three-act structure. So, you’re done, right? You’ve got your story? Now, all you have to do is write it down, right?



Everyone always gets so mixed-up with their main-plot, that they often forget entirely about their story’s sub-plots, like the love-story, etc...


Every protagonist needs a quest! Otherwise, your screenplay is going to be as boring as watching paint dry. Give your main-character a goal, something to works towards accomplishing.

BACK “Life doesn’t have plots and subplots and denouements. It’s just a big collection of loose-ends and dangling threads that never get explained!” - Grant Morrison 07

You’ve got the main-plot only. Now you have to start thinking about all the sub-plots. Each of your main-characters should have at least some semblance of a sub-plot. They should have goals and desires too, just like your protagonist. Give them a quest. Just a much smaller one than your protagonist gets.

Characters who have no wants and desires are boring. They just follow the main-character around, waiting for their dialogue. Give them something to do! Give them a story too. Give them ups and downs. Give them turning-points that completely upend their quest.

Of course, you aren’t going to have nearly enough time to have all these sub-plots play-out. You’re going to have to do it quickly! Supporting-characters never get much screen-time. So, you’re going to have to have an entire sub-plot’s three-act structure play out in only a few minutes worth of scenes. Often as little as one short scene representing each act of the sub-plot’s story. You’re going to have to be succinct when writing you sub-plots.

  5. Third Act: Guy finally gets laid with a different woman

  6. Denouement: Guy is pleased with himself in the afterglow

It doesn’t take much to create a simple sub-plot. Just a bare-bones story-structure and a supporting-character or two. But, each sub-plot you create adds depth to your story. Just don’t go overboard and create nothing but sub-plots (like Game of Thrones for instance). That works great for television, but it takes a deft-hand to make it work in the movies. Only a handful have ever done it well (Pulp Fiction, Shortcuts, Grand Canyon, etc…). Audiences want someone to root for, and that typically means a single protagonist and one main story.

If you have well-structured sub-plots, you will be able to keep the audience interested during all the down-times in your script. When you are more concerned with the boring exposition or backstory, you can inject a sub-plot to keep things exciting and keep the audience paying attention.

When writing sub-plots, it doesn’t have to be much. Most teen-comedies will have a character who can’t get laid. Then, by the end of the movie, he’ll sleep with the sexy MILF everyone ogles throughout the movie, or something like that. Just a few short scenes.

And, notice how such a simple story like that can still have a three-act structure:

  1. First Act: Guy can’t get laid
  2. First Turning-Point: Guy decides he’s going  to get laid no matter what
  3. Second Act: Guy has no luck
  4. Second Turning-Point: The girl he’s infatuated with rejects him

Armageddon’s a great movie to watch for how deftly they handle an insane amount of sub-plots.

Pay close attention to how little time they have to tell us about each of the drillers and get each of their stories across!

By the end of the movie, the audience knows so much about each of those characters, it’s like they are old friends. But, go back and look at how little screen-time (script-space) each one had. It’s minuscule. Look at how much character the screenwriter is able to get across in one short line here or there! And, it’s usually a funny line too.

Let’s just look at some of the supporting-characters and their sub-plots:

And, that’s just a small handful of all the sub-plots and supporting-characters in Armageddon!

Writing a movie isn’t just creating one story - it’s creating a whole bunch of stories that are all deftly interwoven together to create a seamless whole.

FORWARD Of Main-Plots and Sub-Plots The First Turning-Point - The last scene of your first act, when your protagonist chooses his quest The Second Turning-Point - the last scene of the second act The Climax - the conclusion of your story-line, the ending Related Articles: How to Write a Screenplay: Welcome to SCREENPLAY.today - We'll teach you how to write your very own Hollywood-style script or screenplay - for free! SCREENPLAY.today Online Screenwriting Course - Learn How To Write a Top-Quality Script for a Film or Movie - FREE!