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Samuel D Southwell

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By Samuel D Southwell   
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Last edited: Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

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This is an article that a worte for beginning screenwriters. I hope it helps.

A plot line is the plot of the story, that is, the flow of the story. Now, most books that I have read will tell you that the plot line runs like a graph with peaks at the plot points and builds to a climax at the midpoint. Then the plot line will slow drop into the end. I personal do not agree with that image of the plot line. After all, there are really two plot lines.

I look at plot lines like a roller coaster with twists, bends, and loop to loops, but there is more than one track. A screenplay has two plot lines or dueling plot lines. These two plot lines race around on two tracks intertwining with each other, like the Dueling Dragons roller coaster at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure.

The first plot line, A, we call the action plot line or main plot line, for this is where most of the story takes place. This plot line races down the track, like a red fire dragon, bursting through the sky with rage and fury. It twists, turns, and loops, knocking the audience off guard and keeping them on the edge of their seats.

The second plot line, B, we call the theme plot line or sub-plot line. This is where the relationships are developed and played out. Shooting down the track, like a blue ice dragon, it brings out all the emotions in the audience, jerking and throwing them in different directions.

Both these plot lines should be powerful by themselves, but together they should give the audience the ride of a lifetime. They must nearly clash and collide, coming right at each other, then twist and turn off into opposite direction. They must also intertwine within each other, like a quilt, throughout the screenplay. They have to do this flawlessly.

How do you do this? First, try this exercise. Pick up a script, any script will do, and, using two different colored highlighters, highlight the two plot lines, each in its' own color. Now, once you have done that, look at the script again. Look at how the two plot lines interact with each other. Is there more A plot or more B plot? Some writers like to concentrate more on one then the other.

How do you tell the difference between the A and B plot lines? Easy, the A plot line is where most of the action takes place, the car chases, the gun fights, the top layer. The B plot line is where the relationships are made, the hero and his buddy, the man and woman falling in love, the underlying layer. Here's a secret, there is sometimes more than one B plot.

A good example. In the movie Star Wars, the A plot line is the rebels vs. the empire. The B plots, on the other hand, would be the relationships between Luke and Ben, Han and Chewie, Luke and Leia, etc. There is really about five or more B plot lines in this movie.

Now, remember this, when you write your scenes think is this part of plot A, B, or both. This should help you become aware of the dueling plot lines. Another exercise that has helped me is when you are watching movies, think what is the A plot line and what is the B plot line. When you do this, I think you will be surprised how fast you will start to pick them up.

Web Site: Twisted American Publications

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Samuel D Southwell

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