What’s a B-Story? And Why That Love Triangle Doesn’t Cut It

Before I explain what a B-Story is and why it’s crucial, here’s a list of what it is not:

  • Comic relief that is inconsequential to the main story.
  • A side plot that has nothing to do with your hero.
  • A tacked-on love story to appease those who say YA needs a love triangle.

These are not B-Stories; they are filler. And a novel is long enough without pointless filler! The B-Story must count! It must mean something! It must affect the hero! Why? Because the B-Story is the novel’s THEME.

That’s right, Theme, also known as “the meaning of the journey” or “what your hero needs to learn.” For more information about Theme read this, but for now let’s stick to what it has to do with the B-Story…

This line from Blake Synder’s book SAVE THE CAT! STRIKES BACK says it best:

The A Story is the hero’s tangible goal, what he wants. The B Story is the hero’s spiritual goal, what he needs.

As always, it’s best to demonstrate what this means by using an example, like THE HUNGER GAMES. I know, I know, I always refer to Suzanne Collin’s novel, but that’s because it’s just so damn brilliant. Even better, it has a B-Story love triangle that’s an actual plot and not lame filler. So let’s refresh the story elements of The Hunger Games

Theme: Freedom through rebellion.

A-Story (Katniss’s tangible goal): Win the Hunger Games.

B-Story (Katniss’s spiritual goal): Show the Capitol they don’t own her.

So that’s the purpose of the B-Story? Now who are the characters involved? Usually B-Story characters are love interests or friends or mentors, people who help the hero and give the hero the insight he/she needs to win in the end. In The Hunger Games, the B-Story is Katniss’s relationship with Peeta.

(I considered that the B-Story could be Haymitch since he is literally Katniss’s mentor, but it’s Peeta for the reasons listed below…)

Peeta isn’t the B-Story just because he’s the love interest (along with Gale), but because he does 5 Crucial Things That the B-Story Character Must Do:

1)   He brings up the Theme. Remember that scene the night before the Games start where Katniss and Peeta talk on the roof? On page 142 Peeta says, “I keep wishing I could think of a way to… to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” and Katniss just replies, “That’s how the Games work.” Peeta already knows what Katniss needs to learn, but Katniss hasn’t got it yet. She even says as much when he asks, “Don’t you see?” and she replies, “A little. Only… no offense, but who cares, Peeta?” Katniss isn’t yet the rebel Peeta and all of Panem need her to be.

2)   He talks about Theme with the hero. Throughout the story, Peeta talks about not letting the Capitol control him and being his own person, especially when he and Katniss reunite in the cave.

3)   He nurtures the hero. The B-Story character is always there for the hero, nurturing, helping, supporting, etc. In Peeta’s case, he literally makes it his mission to protect Katniss and keep her alive in the Hunger Games.

4)   He teaches the hero the lesson/theme. Through his actions and opinions, Peeta influences Katniss not to play by the Capitol’s rules and be a pawn in the Games.

5)   He helps the hero win in the end. Peeta is there in the Finale, fighting by Katniss’s side and participating in the suicide trick. B-Story characters need not be physically present in the Final Battle, but they must have helped the hero get there.

So that is the difference between a true B-Plot Love Story and a lame, tacked-on love story – the love interest helps the hero learn the THEME. If the love story is just a pleasant distraction, kissing scenes in between fight scenes, it’s not a B-Story.

Of course, as I already said, the B-Story doesn’t have to be a love story. The B-Story character can be a mentor or a friend too. The only rule is this person must be the hero’s ally and help the hero learn the lesson/theme.

In conclusion, the purpose of the B-Story is to show that the true reason for the journey is not the tangible goal (win the Hunger Games), but the spiritual lesson that can only be found through the B-Story (the real win is not being a Capitol pawn).

Next Up from Heather… What is in a novel scene that is not in a screenplay scene? I’ll tell you next week as I adjust my Sticky Note Outline to accommodate it. ** Update: my Sticky Note Outline is still being revised, but I did figure out the Theme of my novel – FINALLY! So instead of blogging about scenes, I will blog about Theme.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “What’s a B-Story? And Why That Love Triangle Doesn’t Cut It”

  1. This is very helpful in clarifying how the A-story, B-story, and theme relate. I was wondering about No. 1 of the 5 Crucial Things That The B-story Character Must Do. I should say, I am working on a screenplay. Currently my protagonist meets the B-story Character at the beginning of the Second Act. A minor character introduces the theme after the Opening. I am considering intercutting scenes of my protagonist and my B-story character in the first act before they meet (this may end up in the Buddy Love Genre). Thank you.

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