Mythbusters Sub Plots

Part of every holiday seems to find my family sitting in front of a television for some part of the day. It's especially intriguing for me since, as I've said before, we don't have a television. This year, out in Denver at my sister and brother-in-law's place, the remote found its way into my brother's hands. That meant a full day of The Mythbuster's marathon.  

Other than the sheer amusement of watching my conspiracy theorizing father and brother agree with everything that the show said until they got to the moon landing conspiracy theory debunking, “Notice they don't let you see that picture very long?” “Like we're supposed to trust them when they're going off of NASA information.” (This was a very good lesson in people believing what they want to believe). I found a very good lesson for writing tucked into how the show was laid out.

The earlier versions of the show had the two myth busting goofballs finding a myth and going through the entire process of debunking it. For the most part you got one myth from start to finish. In the more recent version of the show they've added three young sidekicks who debunk myths related to the major myth that the two pros take on.

While I found myself getting tired of the process involved with debunking the major myth the “sub” myths keep me hanging around for just another fifteen minutes. Before I knew it we were in the final segment and by that time I might as well stick around for the finale.

When I finally tore myself away from the television, . . . okay, so it was my wife who tore me away with the announcement that dinner was ready, I came away with a realization: the “sub” myths served as sub-plots. You know, those smaller problems that writers sprinkle throughout the story that all relate to the main plot but that can be solved all along the way. They keep us reading. They're the “V” payoff that I was talking about last week.

These sub-plots should all be related to the main plot. They build on each other. Some of them work to get us a little closer to the truth, while others work to put our characters further in peril. They sort of work in tandem. They appear to be pulling in opposite directions, yet they are both working to advance the story. Were all of the sub-plots positive there'd be no tension. If they were all downfalls our spirit would be crushed and we'd simply stop reading.

And there's my t.v. Inspired writing thought.

  • Sub-plots work to keep the reader involved.
  • They should be both positive and negative.
  • Above all they work to move the story forward.
  • Always relate them to the main plot.

Oh, and one last thing that just occurred to me: deeper meaning. These little successes and failures should also reveal something about our characters. While sub-plots are hard enough to deal with as it is, this last one really raises the bar and can often leave a writer with quite a headache. It's not going to be painfully obvious, “I will no longer trust white tailed weevils!” It'll be more like that story worthy problem that rides underneath the surface that the pro doesn't quite get until the end. They're small steps to getting to that resolution.


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