Before I explain what is a B-Story and why it’s crucial, here’s a list of what it is not:
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.” One day I will write a more detailed post about Theme, but for now let’s stick to what it has to do with the B-Story…
Whatever your writing process, whether you outline or dive straight into prose, there’s one step we all must do – story edit. There are innumerable things to edit in a manuscript, but let’s start with the bones of the story. After all, adding metaphors and sensory descriptions won’t matter if the story is weak.
So bring out that handy Basic Beats chart. Fill it in. Even if you used this to outline your novel, things probably changed when you were writing, so update it.
Just filling in The Basic Beats will reveal missing or flimsy story elements. Bam! You’re already editing!
Once you have all the elements, start asking questions. The first one I usually ask is: “Did this story change the protagonist’s life?” Start to answer by comparing the Opening and the Final Moment…
I picked HUNGER GAMES as the first novel to break down into Basic Story Beats because I knew it had all the elements in chronological order. After all, I’d read the novel thrice and was familiar with the story. Though I was shocked to find that the Debate didn’t actually happen on the page, but rather in my mind. The Set Up was so well written that I was essentially in Katniss’s head, weighing the options for her in that split-second before she yells, “I volunteer as tribute!” Amazing.
Without further ado, The Hunger Games’ Basic Story Beats:
Just as there are many ways to write a novel, there are many ways to outline a novel. You can use all the methods, one of the methods, or none of the methods. The choice is yours! Go nuts with the freedom! Myself, I use all of the outlining methods I will explain in the next few posts. I treat them like stepping stones, each step preparing me to write that novel. Kind of like psyching myself up to jump off a cliff! I start by hopping into the shallow end of a pool, then I cannonball into the deep end, then I dive off the diving board, and finally, when I’ve gotten the basics down, I head to the lake, find a wicked high cliff, and jump!
But even if you prefer to write on the wild side and just jump, the following outline method is handy during editing to figure out what might be missing from your story or how to make your story stronger.
Now without further ado, the first outline method: the Basic Story Beats!