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Home » Archives » March 2007 » My Favorite Moment of the B
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03/05/2007: My Favorite Moment of the B

Last time I was in New York, I thoroughly enjoyed a performance of "The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee." The play contains several intertwined stories of the various children in the bee, with the stories given differing degrees of time and focus. That means, of course, that there was a B-story in the bee story. Mwuph! (That's the sound of my muffled laughter. Oh, I love the wordplay.)

So let's talk about B-stories. The B-story is the secondary story in your episode. It's the thing that Toby and Oscar are doing while Dwight and Michael are carrying the A-story, to put it in Official terms. You might have more than one story in addition to your A-story, and sometimes you'll hear the term "C-story," but often all the non-As are called B-stories. (Unless a supporting story is so small that it's really just a few moments here and there -- then it's called a "runner".) If two stories share an episode and are of equal importance, they're sometimes called "Co-A-stories."

Developing a B-story is often a matter of playing with negative space. It's determined to some degree by whatever the A-story is not. It involves the characters you have left over, and it often takes on an opposite tone: it's humorous if the A is dark, it's talky if the A story is full of action.

In other ways it's similar to the A-story. It has to take place in the same amount of time, for example. I remember a very tough story breaking session at Gilmore Girls because we had an A-story that played in real time that for some reason we really wanted to pair with a B-story that took place over a series of days. Something, ultimately, of course, had to give. It's also often the case that the B-story and the A-story share a theme, sometimes dealt with in a contrasting way. If the A-story is about someone dealing with grief by becoming grim and self-destructive, the B-story might be about someone dealing with the same loss by becoming manically life-affirming.

The key, as always, is to consult the produced episodes of the show you're specing. This is one you can do using the scripts, and also just by making close observations as you watch. Make a chart of the A and B stories in each episode and note how they relate to each other. Do they share a theme? Do they explicitly comment on each other? Does one story influence the events in the other story? As always, try to emulate whatever your show is already doing.

If you're writing a spec pilot, you can decide to combine your A and B-stories in whatever way you find the most effective. (You might want to think about how your favorite show handles the issue and try doing it how they do.)

And remember that the B-story might just be more important than the A. Because it's often the more emotional, more internal story while the A story has the action and explosions, it's often the B-story that ends up being the more memorable, more affecting story. In my old NYPD Blue spec, it was the comedic Martinez-and-Medavoy B-story that caught everyone's attention. The same thing can happen with that funny little Chase-and-Wilson story you've built into your "House."

Lunch (yesterday's): hot fresh char sieu bao in Chinatown, SF. Wow.


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