How to ruin a great idea

So Much Promise

Movie 3

A few weeks back I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a great plot involving a robbery gone bad. It began with a chase, fun dialog and, unfortunately for the robbers, death.

Curious as to why they would kill off all the stars so close to the beginning I was pleasantly surprised at the spin of the plot where their wives picked up the slack and finished the job.

For about 45 minutes the story ran a straight line. It was solid with the protagonist, the antagonist and the side characters committed to one goal.

In a nutshell it was super cool fun.


Then Suddenly

But just as I was about to place this in my favorite movie of the year category it all came crashing down and for the remaining hour and twenty minutes it turned into a shell of what it started out to be.

What caused the wheels to come off and turn a memorable storyline into a forgettable one?

Three Words: Too Many Subplots.


How Writers Mess Up


Subplots are important to every story. We need them. We write them. The reader wants them. We also need spices for our tasty dish. But what happens when you add too much garlic?

You get the idea.

The movie in question began to add layers upon layers of subplots. So much so that it caused me to forget the actual plot. It was as though a new team of writers came in and ruined the original idea.


Remember the Audience

As a story teller we must constantly remind ourselves we are here to entertain not to hand down layers upon layers of messages.

I’m guilty of adding way to many subplots when I began a story but I’m fine with that. In fact I want to. But as the rewrites begin so do the killing of my darlings.

Anytime I watch a movie or read a book containing endless subplots I am always frustrated. Especially if I see potential.

I encourage all of us to toss our subplots against the wall and see which ones will stick. A writer who listens to their characters and follows the path of their story will choose the ones that work.

There has to be a balance and the focus of the plot has to be clear.

The last thing you want is a person like me turning away from an excellent beginning. We all know how disappointed one can be when seeing such a promise turn into a mountain of goo.


40 thoughts on “How to ruin a great idea

  1. Just seeing you’ve posted brought a smile on my face! I have really come to admire your way of storytelling and the little gems of wisdom you gently give. Have a great day!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. No really, I was just making blunders upon blunders and I genuinely smiled when I saw you’ve posted and decided to just read IT! 😉😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent advice, Bryan. As usual, you turn something as simple as watching a movie into valuable writing tips. Also, I totally agree with your assessment of that movie. I’d heard such good things and was eager to watch it only to be bored by the end. With some of those subplots taken out, it would have had better pacing and the twists would have had more impact.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not too often have I heard about subplots, and you did a good job writing about them. I agree – too many subplots is distracting. Quite a few films have many subplots so as to set up a sequel or prequel film down the track, and I guess the same can be said about books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You made an excellent point on prequels and sequels. It seems like they are taking a gamble but the gamble comes at a cost.

      We’ve seen and read some that work but when they fall it’s a messy crash.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a shame. If a story is going to fail, I’d much rather it happen early than after I invested so much time. But your idea about subplots is a good one. They can make things muddy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Staci. It was disappointing. Not only have I seen this in movies but in books as well. When it happens it feels like another batch of writers, or writer, took over and finished it off.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can do a little more in the way of subplots when it comes to books than I can movies. With movies, unless it’s clear they are folding into one another, I tend to pick a subplot to use as a break in paying attention/bathroom break/etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is a perfect example of the dangers of subplots. Writers need to be aware not only in movies but in books. You’re suppose to be glued to the page or the screen instead of a bathroom break or skimming pages.

      Thanks Harry. Excellent.


  6. Guilty! My hand’s in the air. Reading your post has made me realize that’s what the problem is with a story I have. Too many subplots. Wow, Bryan, I’m glad you shared this post—this is a huge help. I actually might know how to attack my story now. For months I haven’t been wanting to touch it. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is something we all do. My first novel had a handful of subplots that my editor trashed. I was smart enough to listen. Give her a gold medal for that one.

    Good to see on your end you’ve discovered something that wasn’t working. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it.


  8. Love this! I’ve come across movies with similar issues, and I actually stopped watching them. When we write stories, we don’t want readers to make the same choice.

    It takes practice to master subplots, but that also requires proceeding with caution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly.

      By mastering the subplots and, like you said, proceeding with caution we have a chance of creating an entertaining piece. It’s so easy to get carried away and sometimes it’s hard to put on the breaks.

      Thank you, Alice.


  9. Then they spend lots of money making movies like that and they expect us to jump on the bandwagon and do the same. Have you ever tried watching some of the movies on Netflix and wondered why they are there? A few of them are good, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s hit and miss, isn’t it.

      I would hope that the ones that are a miss would be paid attention to. When something fails that’s a perfect opportunity to ask what went wrong.


  10. Hi Joanne!

    I was the same for the longest time until I started writing. If you flood the reader or viewer to much stuff you end up pushing them away.

    Thank you for stopping by.


  11. So much yes, Bryan! The other thing that I find frustrating is when the subplots (in movies and TV especially) are only subplots because the involved characters are minor characters of the main plot, and are totally not connected to the main plot in any way (yes, rebooted Hawaii Five-0 after Daniel Kim and Grace Park left, I’m talking to you). I recently consulted with a writer who had no less than 5 subplots going in his book. I suggested one way to handle them would be to pull the subplots and give them their own space in a novella if the subplots don’t directly affect the main plot. That way you can keep the darlings but lessen the clutter in the main story. Great post!


  12. Julie, excellent comment. Thank you.

    I hope the writer you spoke to took your advice . I try to imagine a straight arrow. Keep the plot moving forward instead of side to side. It’s okay to have a curve in the arrow just as long as it’s a curve and not a direct line.

    Really appreciate this.


  13. Good reminders,it is tempting to be ‘too clever ‘ with minor characters and sub plots. In our heads we may have all their activities and back stories, but we don’t have to put it all up front.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh wow, great advice and one I’ve not considered before. I wonder if I have too many sub-plots? I thank you for broadening my perspective.
    P.s I finally watched When Sally met Harry and I loved it. 😅

    Liked by 1 person

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