Screenwriting : Is a B-Story Absolutely Necessary? by C Harris Lynn

C Harris Lynn

Is a B-Story Absolutely Necessary?

Do you absolutely have to have a B-story in a half-hour sit-com?

I wrote an episode for a TV series, but now realize I didn't include a B-story. I had so much fun writing that I didn't even think about it. I found a handful of episodes from other series that have little or no B-story, but they're rare. I have no problem including one, I just don't have one, and I wanted to be certain before investing the time and energy. Were I writing this in any other form (stageplay, short story, et. al.), I wouldn't include a B-story because it isn't necessary, but almost every TV sit-com episode has one.

Do I need to include a B-story, or is it fine without one? Thanks.

Emile M. Hobo

I think you need to focus on all of the character's needs, rather than B-story. Does every character want something? Are there twists and turns in what they're going through? Do they or don't they get what they want and what's their reaction? If characters are flat, maybe you do need a B,C,D-story. Maybe it's already there, but you didn't see it before.

Doug Nelson

Define "Absolutely Necessary". I'm unaware of any 'Absolutes' in screen writing but I think that a script with only an 'A' story is about as dull as pancakes without syrup. It's those sub stories that give depth and breath life into your main story. My personal opinion is that without 'em your script is DOA - and goes directly to the circular file.

Travis Sharp

B -stories have become much more popular. Jerry Seinfeld made a movie about them. Chris Rock played a mosquito. (sorry, I am a child)

C Harris Lynn

It's a funny story, Emile, and comes to a satisfying resolution, it just focuses on a very small cast who only serve the story. Including a B-story has become a staple of sit-coms, and Doug's right about it reading "flat" without one, I just wanted to get some opinions before I committed to anything. I'm fine with doing it, I just wondered if it was a convention of the format or not. I don't want to shoehorn a B-story in there just to include one, but they do seem important. Thanks, everyone!

Dan MaxXx

A- story is the plot (sells tickets).

B-story is the reason for the plot (theme, message, POV).

Travis Sharp

C-story : Herman Melville

Travis Sharp

JFK and W story: Oliver Stone

(Ok, I'm done)

C Harris Lynn

There's tons of subtext, Dan, there just isn't a second, running story with one or more characters doing their own thing unrelated to the main plot - that's the "B-story" I'm talking about. The principals in my episode are engaged in a situation they handle - and it's good and funny, and all that - but 98 out of 100 times, one or more of the castmembers would be engaged in another, unrelated storyline that resolves neatly toward the end, and I don't have one of those. There are a dozen or so episodes from all sorts of sit-coms throughout the years in which there is no B-story, but a lot of those were attempts at spin-offs

There was an episode of Friends in which Joey and Ross developed a penchant for napping together - that was the episode's "B-story." I don't remember what the episode was actually about, but I remember that B-story because it was clever and funny. I can come up with dozens of similarly "unimportant" things to craft into a B-story - and make them funny and entertaining to watch - and I have no problem doing that, if that's what readers and producers expect to see. I don't want to stick something in there just so I can say I have a B-story if I can get away with not having one, since I... don't really have one. :D

Barry A.A. Dillinger

Agree with C Harris...the B-story is really a support for the rest of the cast who are not involved in the main plotline. Plus, one storyline in the 20 minute episode tends to create a less frenetic feel that the 1/2 hour sitcom really requires. I'd say, add it in.

C Harris Lynn

Let me rephrase this:

A deus ex machina ending is a convention of the Victorian novel; horror movies need victims to meet brutal ends; rom-coms have a meet-cute; these are conventions of these [sub-] genres that must be met - otherwise, the work doesn't really meet the requirements for that [sub-] genre.

So, is a B-story (as described in my comment above - a second, concurrent storyline involving one or more cast regulars) a convention of the half-hour, American sit-com, or can an episode(s) work without one?

Cliff is treating a terminal patient, so we get a tearjerker of a story about healthcare, death, aging, et. al. - a Very Special Episode - meanwhile, Theo tries to hide his report card because he failed Algebra (B-story). I wrote the tearjerker A-story - and it's funny and moving, a real decent story - but I got caught-up in it and forgot to give Theo something to do this week. Now I need to trim 5+ pages from my Very Special Episode to make room for a whole other story I've yet to write, or even conceive.

Do I absolutely need to include Theo's storyline, or is it okay to skip it? Will readers, producers, and - most importantly - the audience be thrown-off by the fact that the script does not include a B-story, or will anyone notice?

My only issue - and it's an incredibly minor one - is that the B-story can be literally anything, which makes me wonder if it's necessary, or if it became an institution because they needed to include the castmembers (Union thing, maybe - or just to keep the actors happy), pad-out the episodes, or something like that.

Theo could need money to buy a shirt, or need Cockroach to help him move a couch, or have an argument with Denise - it really doesn't matter - so, since it isn't necessary to the story, one of those numerous Golden Rules says I should leave it out. But, it is something all sit-coms include, so I'm wondering if I should write one in anyway to fulfill the conventions of the form.

Travis Sharp

You guys think too much, fuck it dude, let's go bowling.

Doug Nelson

C Harris - Just one Producer's pov; A sit-com requires some comedy as part of its very definition, so yeah, Theo's story needs to be in there to provide the comic relief (I hate those dam* laugh tracks) to the heavy tearjerker. Think of your audience as that over-all clad, over weight worker at home watching TV with a beer in one hand and the remote in the other - you bore him for one second - and he's gone (and the sponsors don't like that one bit.)

C Harris Lynn

Right!? And there's your B-story: Theo and Cockroach's bowling team has to win/lose their Big Game or something will/won't happen. It has absolutely nothing to do with Dr. Huxtable's terminal patient or any of the issues that storyline deals with, and there are no significant, lasting consequences (an actual convention of the half-hour, American sit-com). So, the only reason I would include it is because I think readers, producers, and the general viewing audience expect to see it so much that they would miss it if it weren't there - even if they can't identify what, exactly, a B-story is.

Before I scrap five pages of clever back-and-forth to replace it with some wacky hi-jinks of Elaine buying a shirt or whatever - and you can get some good mileage out of a B-story ("A puffy shirt? I look like a pirate! It's a Pirate Shirt!"), so it's not about quality, or meritous work, or any of that horseshit - I want to be sure I'm not wasting my time. Not to mention that it's important for future projects.

I mean, I can't just cut five pages; I'm going to have to strategically cut lines, rewrite jokes, and probably move scenes around to "find" those five pages. Then come up with a story, then write it, then edit it into the script... I want to get this script read (well, SOLD), so I don't mind doing it - I'm just not going to invest all that time and effort if I can avoid it.

It is kind of overthinking it but, again, I already wrote it! Normally, I would plot-out a B-story as part of the outlining/brainstorming, but I had a couple snippets of dialogue and just ran with it. Before I knew it, I had over 40 pages! I rewrote all of that into a story, but later realized I had not included a B-story because I wasn't really writing, I was just writing down some clever dialogue I thought of for use later (in something - whatever), and it turned into a teleplay.

That's what got me thinking about this, so I figured I needed some input. Thanks! :D

Travis Sharp

Sorry I cursed papa Doug.

Travis Sharp

Give some "Growing Pains" examples so we can say Boner.

Doug Nelson

Travis - wash your mouth out with soap, then drop and give me twenty - then all's forgiven.

Travis Sharp

Yes, sir.

C Harris Lynn

Mike finds The Lord and convinces Boner to legally change his name to "Mikey's No-Zone." Jason and Maggie put Ben up for adoption.

C Harris Lynn

Due to a mailing mishap, Jason is set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize - but Maggie is kidnapped while abroad, forcing Mike and Carol to master Jeet Kun Do to protect their family. Boner burns down the house.

Travis Sharp


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