A very useful tool in storytelling is the distribution of subplots within the story. Now subplots, as you can plainly guess, are smaller plots that are not directly connected to the main plot, that big picture that we have been talking about in our first lecture.
But why would you make smaller story's inside a story, when the point of a story is to get a point across?
"It's a little like sex," says Thomas Hunt rather disingenuously, "in order for it to work it has to have a certain familiar structure in the sense that we need to roughly know where we are going and what we should expect on the way there. It really does not matter if the payoff is exactly what we expect or something that totally surprises us or even disappoints us. What is important is that the tropes work in such way that they achieve two things:
1. They prepare us, mentally and psychologically, for the journey ahead
2. They make us, through the process of subconscious expectation and mental and psychological preparation, whole-hearted participants to the enterprise. Then the novel becomes a shared journey of discovery between the author and the reader and a masterpiece is born.
Storyline divides "subplots" into two types: Those that run parallel and don't really affect each other Dramatically, and those that are dramatically hinged together.
An example of parallel subplots can be found in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" in which the "Crime" story with Martin Landau and the "Misdemeanor" story with Woody Allen never really affect each other.
The purpose of having these two stories in the same "work" is for the audience to be able to compare two completely different issues that share a common cultural concern. In "Crimes and Misdemeanors," it is the differential created between them which provides a social message that extends beyond the meaning found by either of the two Main Characters.
An example of a hinged subplot can be found in the original "Star Wars." Han Solo's debt to Jaba the Hutt is a story in its own right with Han as the Main Character. This subplot eventually comes to have change the course of the plot in the main story.
The purpose of having a subplot may be two-fold: 1: to enhance a character, theme, plot, or amplify part of the genre of the "work" and/or 2: to move the course of the main story in a direction it could not dramatically go in and of itself.
In "Star Wars," Han Solo is initially uncooperative and refuses to get involved in the efforts of Obi Wan or Luke. For example, when the group first arrives on the Death Star, Han wants to fight, not to hide in the room while Obi Wan goes off. But when Luke discovers that the princess is on board, Han wants to wait in the room and not fight. It is his nature.
So, how do we get Han to join Luke in the rescue attempt? We invoke Han's subplot. Luke tells Han, "She's rich," and Han is already hooked. But if there were no Jaba subplot, the money alone would not be enough to convince the uncooperative Han to "walk into the detention area." On the other hand, since Jaba has put a price on Han's head, he's dead already unless he can come up with the money, and this is probably the only chance he's going to get to do that.
As a result, Han joins the plan, acting completely against what his character would do dramatically in the main story but in complete consistency with his personal needs (which are more important to him) in his subplot.
Use both the parallel and hinged subplots to enhance your story's depth and move it in directions it could not legitimately go with only the main plotline!
Now to those who wish to complete the assignment, I will give another very simple one. Read the short story The Use of Force
by William Carlos Williams, and identify any use of hinged or parallel subplots.