The stories within the story

Romantic couple with clasped hands backlit by a bright evening sun in a closeup conceptual image of love, commitment and friendship.

Last time I wrote about the layers of setup and pay-off within a well written story. Moving back a step, I thought I’d touch on the stories that create those layers with a very simple guide. It neatly summarises how I write any story—screenplay, novel or otherwise.

A story – the plot
B story – central emotional relationship
C story – personal development (how the protagonist overcomes his or her flaw)
Other stories: antagonist’s story; character who is a catalyst etc

For those of you scratching your head about what I mean by the “central emotional relationship” or “CER”, that is the focal relationship for your protagonist. If you’re writing a romance, it is between your hero and heroine. However, the CER is not necessarily a romantic relationship, and is not necessarily a positive one. Examples of non-romantic CERs include Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson, Guy Haines & Charles Anthony Bruno and Frodo Baggins & Sam Gamgee.

There is an order of importance to these stories, and in most cases the A story is the most important. However, in a romance the romantic relationship is key, so the A and B stories are switched. Here is the order of layers I use in my preferred writing genre (inspirational romantic suspense):

A story – central emotional relationship (the romance)
B story – the plot (the suspense)
C story – personal development (how each of the couple overcomes his & her flaw)
D story – faith journey (sometimes combines with the C story)

Of course, the above is the bare necessity for a cohesive, interesting story. Each of the subplots then contains its own A, B, C et al stories. You can see how things can get very complicated very quickly, which is why you need that setup, payoff checklist I talked about last time!