The original “Ghostbusters” film is considered one of the funniest movies ever made. By watching this comedy classic, you can recognize how it unifies its multiple subplots.
In case you haven’t seen “Ghostbusters” or can’t remember every detail, you can watch it for free on Crackle for a limited time. While watching “Ghostbusters,” notice how the various subplots mirror each other.
First, there’s Bill Murray hitting on Sigourney Weaver.
Second, there’s Rick Moranis hitting on Sigourney Weaver.
Third, there’s the Ghostbuster’s secretary hitting on Harold Ramis.
“Ghostbusters” is essentially a comedy love story where the main story is between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. However, the other two subplots are basically identical to this main story.
That’s the purpose of subplots. In every screenplay, you have a main story, then you have nearly identical subplots that support that main story. This repetitive nature of subplots subtly reinforces the main story while allowing variety without the main story filling the entire screenplay from start to finish.
Most screenplays don’t focus on a single story because no single story can hold our attention for two hours. Instead, screenplays show us the main story, give us a breather for a moment so we can focus on the first or second subplot for a while, then returns us back to the main story.
Each time we see the subplot, its nearly identical goal reinforces the main story and also advances the main story.
Imagine a subplot that does not reinforce and repeat the main story. For example, suppose the main story is about a man seeking revenge for his wife’s death at the hands of a rival, so the main story is about revenge. Now imagine a subplot where a secondary character is seeking love. Toss in a third subplot about another minor character who wants to build a statue and can you see how having three wildly different subplots fractures your entire screenplay?
Realign your story and your subplots to pursue identical goals and your screenplay focuses on a single story (told multiple times) rather than three separate stories told three different times.
“The subplots in “Ghostbusters” makes this easy to spot, so the next time you see a movie that you like, look for the main story and then look for how the subplots reinforce that main story. Chances are good that in a well-structured movie, you’ll see the main story and the multiple subplots reinforce and support each other.