Karina M. Sokulski
Your Story's A's & B's
What ARE your story's A's and B's?
The A's and B's of your story are your plot and the subplot. The premise versus the heart of the story. The exterior and interior issues your protagonist faces. The exterior circumstances that inspire interior change in your character. The A's and B's are all these elements combined and integral to your writing.
Your story’s A’s and B’s comprise of the core of your decisions when developing your plot’s narrative. Developing any story requires the marriage of a compelling premise, a good plot, and a worthy protagonist. Developing this stage of your story is encouraged to be tackled first as understanding how these pieces fit makes the writing come easier.
Story A is your premise, the overall plot. It's what's happening outside of the character's head. The circumstances that have molded the protagonist's initial (but subject to change) goal. It's what the story seems to be about.
Story B is your subplot, the internal struggle. It's what's happening inside the character's head. The internal issues that motivate the protagonist to ultimately transform by the end of the story. It's what the story is actually about.
Take for example the novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. (Story A) Scientist Victor Frankenstein creates a literal monster and bestowed life upon it. (Story B) The story is actually about a man who has to atone for his crimes against nature. Another example is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Story A) Sara Crewe falls from riches to rags when her father dies at war and leaves her penniless at her London boarding school. (Story B) The story is actually about a girl who, in the face of tragedy and extreme loss, realizes in order to move past her hardships, she’ll have to survive it.
The story’s lesson is the emotional journey your protagonist experiences from start to finish. Normally this lesson is universal enough it could be discussed at the bus stop. Many times, the life lesson manifests as a journey the protagonist didn’t even know they were on. The journey will always lead to what the character needs rather than what they initially wanted. Whether aware of the life lesson or not, the journey also leads the character to the last place they expect.
Doctor Frankenstein, out of fear for what his creations could be capable of, destroys the mate he almost made for his monster. A direct consequence of this is Doctor Frankenstein loses multiple family members, his newly wed bride among them, and swears vengeance on an already vengeful monster. The two monsters become indistinguishable from one another, apart from their differing height, and Frankenstein ultimately suffers a fate he didn’t expect.
Despite her miserable life, Sara retains her princess-like behavior of bestowing kindness and charity upon others. She’s resigned to her fate but determined to outlive her hardships, having proven to herself her capability of doing so. Sara Crewe is rewarded in fairytale like fashion (think Cinderella) when she happens upon the boarding school’s neighbors to return their pet monkey. It just so happens the neighbor is the business partner of Sara’s late father who has been searching for her all along. An honor-bound promise between the two friends results in a hard-earned reward for Sara’s struggles.
Life as we know it isn’t simple and full of easy struggles. People in our lives are imperfect. Characters in our favorite television shows have chips on their shoulders for a reason. Flawed characters are preferred over perfect ones for a reason. It's easy to invest in a character who's in search of something they lack, doubly so if that something will fix an aspect of their lives. When it’s time to decide your story’s A’s and B’s, ask yourself the following questions:
What flaws does my character struggle with?
What happened to make them end up this way?
What does my character think they need to fix their life?
What's the premise of my "A" story?
What will my character actually need to fix their life?
What's the life lesson of my "B" story?
What does the moment look like when your character realizes their need versus their want?
What will the character get out of this journey in the end?
Will the journey's end be what they expect?
Not every character transforms as a result of their journey. In fact, many may ultimately succumb to a worse fate because they are unable to transform. Many authors prefer a transformation story because the protagonist offers more relatability to the reader. Alternatively, static character arcs prove the superior for life lessons about failing to "rise to the challenge" or "accept responsibility." Whether a transformation is part of your story or not, the life lesson of your story should remain relatable. While the A story provides your hook, the B story provides your statement to the reader. The point of your story should always have something to bring to the table. Whether your story is about a protagonist coming to terms with change, or fighting desperately against it, make it a journey your readers can relate to.