Essentially, the A-plot
is repeated in miniature in the B-plot. By looking at the results of one, the main character or audience gains a greater understanding of the other. This is a fairly common variation on Two Lines, No Waiting
, as it gives the story layers and depth while remaining concise. It allows you to more fully explore each story — they prop one another up. Sometimes takes the form of a Show Within a Show
For example, suppose the A-plot has the heroine trying to get a pair of rare birds to mate. The subplot is the heroine is in denial about being in love with her best friend. By getting the birds together, she realizes she is in love with her friend. Another example: A lawyer defends a client who is accused of incompetence because of his age. The B-plot shows the lawyer worried that he's too old for the job. In defending his client, the lawyer realizes he's not ready to retire yet.
Often results in a Double Aesop
, but not always; not all examples have characters learning a lesson. For example, the main plot of King Lear
(Lear banishing faithful Cordelia and being betrayed by his other daughters) is mirrored in the Gloucester subplot, where Gloucester disowns faithful Edgar and is betrayed by his illegitimate son Edmund. The two stories are obvious parallels, but nobody learns anything from them (except the audience, who learns to be horribly depressed
Sometimes this is the plot purpose of the Beta Couple
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Anime and Manga
- Exaggerated in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. For the first two episodes, you'll be wondering where Deconstruction comes into play. And then every other episode has some horrifying revelation. Madoka, however, has not become a Magical Girl, and is essentially The Load. However, Madoka became a Magical Girl and saved every other girl from a Fate Worse Than Death. Episode 10, however, is something entirely similar: Homura is attempting to save Madoka from a Fate Worse Than Death by looping back in time, but she is indirectly causing the deaths of her comrades due to Reset Button diverging from the original. When Episode 9 comes around, everyone except her and Madoka is already dead, and we haven't even seen Walpurgisnacht yet.
- Pluto: Gesicht kills a human being through hatred to avenge his murdered son. Pluto kills the seven greatest robots on Earth through hatred to avenge his ruined country. Gesicht dies but not before realising how futile hatred is. This inadvertently leads to Pluto to sacrifice himself but not before realising how futile hatred is.
- In Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is repeated a lot. We eventually get a dream sequence with the main character traveling with a pack of wolves while chasing the woman he's been spending time with in red clothing. It's also foreshadowing.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In Season 9, Buffy destroying the seed is compared to Theo destroying Tincan.
Theo: "No one's going to understand why I destroyed what I worked so hard to build."
Buffy: "You're right. They won't. You're going to get blamed for being selfish. For doing this to save your own life. To fix the mistakes you made. You're going to lose friends. But at the end of the day, you're doing it for the right reasons."
- The Season 9 comic "Daddy Issues" is also about this, with Drusilla and Faith dealing with their respective issues with their fathers. Though Drusilla's issues have to do with her sire, Angel.
- Watchmen is chock full of parallelism, but probably the most obvious example is the fake comic "Tales of the Black Freighter;" the sailor's desperate and violent struggle to save his family from the Black Freighter (which ends in him killing an innocent man and joining the Freighter's crew) is an allusion to Ozymandias, who commits murder and mass murder in his attempt to restore "peace" to the Cold War world.
- Also by Alan Moore, the plot of The Killing Joke is paralleled by the joke at the end. How the parallel works can be interpreted many ways.
- Sita Sings the Blues: The author of the movie learns how to cope with her divorce by reading the Ramayana and eventually making it into this movie.
- Signs, where the "miraculous" defeat of the aliens helps the protagonist to overcome his crisis of faith.
- In The Fall, the fairytale that Roy tells Alexandria have many parallels with past and present events in the lives of the two main characters.
- In Harm's Way is an A, B and C. It follows three couples falling in love: Admiral and Nurse; Ensign and Ensign, and Lieutenant and wife, during World War 2.
- In the 2003 Korean film The Classic, the love situation that the daughter Ji-hye goes through has several parallels to her mother Joo-hee's situation when she was younger, which is told through flashbacks as the daughter reads her mother's old letters and diary. Both fall in love with a boy (Sang-min/Joo-haa respectively) and end up in a Love Triangle. Joo-haa's friend helped their relationship while Ji-hye had a friend who interfered with their relationship. Whereas Joo-hee's situation eventually ended badly, Ji-hye's situation ended on a much happier note.
- Revenge of the Sith:
- Grievous is partly removed from a mechanical suit and set on fire. Anakin is set on fire and put into a mechanical suit.
- Anakin kills Dooku at Palpatine's behest on the grounds that he's too dangerous to be left alive. Later, Mace Windu tries to do the same thing to Palpatine.
- The critical scene where Anakin's fall to the Dark Side hinges upon a Sadistic Choice is also a Call Forward to the finale of Return of the Jedi: here, Anakin agonizes as he watches Windu kill the man he believes can save Padme, and must decide who to help as the victim pleads with him to be saved; in Return of the Jedi, he has to do the same thing when watching the Emperor try to kill his own son.
- In The Best Offer, the hero's job as an antiques dealer it to tell a forgery from an original. This parallels the main story which is about him failing to see the forgery in Claire's feelings for him.
- Look to Windward has a lot of parallelism. Every major event and character is reflected by another. The war that motivates Quinlan? There's another one. Quinlan's desire? Masaq' wants the same thing. Masaq's decision to retire? Two people do that for similar reasons. Kabe's discovery that he's been absorbed by The Culture when he meant to study it? A secondary character is physically absorbed into the hive mind of a creature he studies.
- This trope meets up with Real Life Writes the Plot in Peter Pays Tribute. The main character is writing a novel that mirrors his own life. Except in a fantasy world where his dad is an omnipotent god.
- In the novel The English Patient, the love story of Kip and Hana provides several parallels to that of Almasy and Katherine, and points up some of the novel's major themes, particularly that of man-made divisions (geography, racial discrimination) being the source of many of the world's troubles. The movie, by diminishing the Kip/Hana story and altering its resolution, doesn't really embody this trope the way the novel does.
- In Rodrigo y el libro sin final (Rodrigo and the unfinished book), the titular character, a nine-year-old boy, helps a novelist suffering from writer's block to find an ending for a book he borrowed from the library. In the process, the writer discovers that some events in the book can be put in parallel with his own life: he and the pirate whose adventures he narrated left their girlfriends to live their dreams; both of them are now old men; both of them feel guilty when the past reappears and have to make a decision. The ending is open: we never know whether author and character make the same decision or take different routes.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the book begins with the main character waking up to see that his house is being demolished without proper notice. The demolisher then states that he did have proper notice, but it is revealed that there was no way he could have actually known about, or seen the notice. Then, spaceships appear all over the earth and it is revealed that the earth is scheduled for demolition and that they were given "proper notice..." Luckily, the main character survives.
- Aldous Huxley lampshades this in Point Counter Point. It's never a straight-up A-Plot parallel, as there is no clear A-Plot, but one of the characters is an aspiring author using elements in his life to create his book. At one point, Huxley goes so far as to step out of the narrative and speak directly to the reader, explaining this and a number of other plot decisions he made, mocking other types of novels in the process.
- In the Dorothy L. Sayers mystery novel Unnatural Death, a minor sub-plot involves Lord Peter Wimsey pestering his pathologist friend for a Perfect Poison (It's for a Book, actually) then realizing the murderer is using something similar.
Live Action TV
- JAG: In "Into the Breech," the A-plot is some navy cadets are holding a mock trial for a sailor who was badly hazed and involved in a Love Triangle with one of his bullies; the B-plot is the same, except it's between the cadets holding the mock trial.
- Wonderfalls did this every episode. The bird example comes from "Safety Canary": A pair of rare birds refuse to mate (A-plot), and Jaye is having love problems with Eric (B-plot). After spending the episode using the birds to avoid interacting with Eric, Jaye realizes she can't give him up just because she's scared of commitment.
- LOST: This happens in almost every episode, with the flashbacks/sideways paralleling what is happening on the island. For instance, in one season six episode focusing on Ben, in the flashsideways Ben has to make a choice between power and Alex. In the main story, he is forced to deal with the consequences of having already made that choice.
- Huge: The troubled romance/sexual tension between Amber and one of the counselors is paralleled by the Twilight expy Phantasma, which the girls of the camp have been fangirling over. The forbidden love comparison becomes even more apparent when scenes of Amber and the counselor are shown between scenes of the Phantasma movie.
- Scrubs, along with Double Aesop, virtually Once an Episode, and lampshaded about Once a Season.
- 7th Heaven was another show that did this constantly, to drive home An Aesop even more anviliciously.
- The West Wing also did it frequently. At the end of one episode where the A-plot is Sam finding out shocking, identity-threatening truths about people he cares about, he tells Donna, "It's just that there are certain things you're sure of, like longitude and latitude." Funny he should put it like that considering one of the B-plots was C.J. and Josh learning about the inaccuracy of common map projections and how the world isn't what they thought it was. (To be fair, Donna does Lampshade this.)
- Wishbone plots parallel the classic stories the title character reads.
- Pushing Daisies (created by the same person who created Wonderfalls) did this a fair bit as well.
- Alexis Castle and her problems normally parallel some aspect of the case her father and Beckett are working, or some aspect of their budding relationship. Leads to many a Eureka Moment.
- iCarly and its five episode Sam/Freddie romance arc ended with one of these. In the A-Plot, Sam and Freddie were trying to become closer. In the B-Plot, Spencer and the girl who used to babysit him when he was 10 years old (she was 15 at the time) entered a relationship that got creepy as she started acting like his babysitter again and bossing him around. Carly ends the B-Plot by telling Spencer and the babysitter that their relationship is creepy and weird, and that they were forcing a romantic connection out of their previous relationship. Sam and Freddie overhear this, and both realize that even though Carly wasn't talking about them, her words matched their dysfunctional relationship. They discuss it, then break up.
- Fringe starts doing this very effectively in the second and third seasons where the case-of-the-week symbolically parallels the developments in the Myth Arc.
- Degrassi did this a lot, especially in the earlier seasons. The English teacher would have them read a story in which the plot was strikingly similarly to the episode's events.
- Better Off Ted played this for laughs in the episode "The Lawyer, the Lemur & the Little Listener." Linda is writing a children's book about a lemur who wants to go off and seek his fortune. However, the lemur decides to stay at his tree with all his friends. Ironically, Linda wants to use the profit from her story to leave Veridian Dynamics and abandon her friends.
- Doctor Who:
- "10,000 BC" parallels the leadership struggles between two Cavemen - Za, an older established Leader in way over his head and willing to resort to brutality to keep his leadership, and Kal, a young outsider trying to sow dissent and usurp Za - with the struggles between the Doctor, an old time traveller in way over his head and willing to resort to brutality to survive, and Ian, a young outsider trying to save Susan and Barbara from the Doctor and take control of the situation.
- "Evil of the Daleks" parallels the alchemist Maxtible's obsession with turning lead into gold with the Daleks' obsession with turning Daleks into humanlike beings. (Note that Maxtible is not interested in turning lead into gold for the money - he already has a very lucrative money-making scam involving time travel abuse - but because it would allow him to know the secret of spiritual purification.)
- "Robot" has an A-plot about an insane, childlike, potentially dangerous but by nature benevolent robot being forced to kill its creator and go against its basic peaceful, humanitarian nature by a rigorous, militaristic unit obsessed with science and reason, which drives it Ax-Crazy and leaves it convinced it needs to kill all of humanity apart from Sarah Jane. The B-plot is about the Doctor who has recently regenerated into an insane, childlike, potentially dangerous but by nature benevolent personality, who attempts to abandon his friend Sarah in his confusion, and is forced to go against his basic freedom-loving nature by the rigorous, militaristic unit who use him as a scientific advisor. The Doctor happily (if a bit flakily) helps defeat the robot, but in the Script Wank scene at the end he convinces Sarah that he won't, won't, won't behave like the refined and social person UNIT needs him to be and it's time for he and she to run off and explore the universe.
- The 50th Anniversary special, the Day of the Doctor leads up to a thwarted nuclear countdown which would destroy a Zygon infiltration but at the cost of blowing up London. This is then mirrored by the Doctor who realises that using The Moment to end the Time War at the cost of destroying Gallifrey was a mistake, so he (they) Tricked Out Time so that Gallifrey's destruction never actually happened. The trope is played with somewhat in that within the episode itself the Zygon plotline actually takes up far more screen time than the Time War plot line, though ultimately the former is rather inconsequential and the latter has huge consequences for the future of the series.
- This is long established in literary criticism, and most of Shakespeare's plays follow it in one form or another.
- The aforementioned King Lear
- The Tempest, the story of Caliban becoming a servant of two sailors mirrors the relationship between Prospero and Ariel.
- A Midsummer Night's Dream has three plots running side by side with play-within-a-play, the relationship between Titania, Oberon and Bottom as well as the central love quadrangle.
- The framing device of The Taming of the Shrew mentions a man who doesn't want to go home because he can't control his wife. The main plot of the play...
- Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus has the A-plot of Faustus selling his soul for power. His servant Wagner uses Faustus's books to learn how to do the same, and then his newly-found servant Robin does the same thing. Taken Up to Eleven when Robin takes on his friend Dick as his own servant...
- Oklahoma!'s subplot is a comic version of the A-story's Love Triangle, with the Beta Couple having the same issues as the main couple.
- Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci: Canio, a Commedia dell'arte actor who plays a cuckolded fool on stage, finds himself cuckolded — but he refuses to be the fool.
- In Deus Ex: Invisible War, there's a minor B-Plot about two rival coffee companies, and their desire to wipe each other out. It turns out the two chains are run by the same company. Later on, the player discovers that two factions in the A-Plot are doing the same thing.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- In "The Great Divide," the B-plot is about Sokka and Katara, who are bickering about one being messy while the other is neat. The A-plot is that two tribes are bickering, because one is messy and the other is neat. This leads to a subversion of the Double Aesop, because although Sokka and Katara make up easily, the tribes don't.
- In "Bitter Work", Aang has a hard time learning Earthbending in the main plot. Meanwhile, in the B-plot, his rival Zuko is learning a difficult Firebending technique, to control lightning. The parallel shows how the two characters deal with frustration, showing their contrasting personalities all while advancing the plot.
- Batman: The Animated Series: "Mean Seasons" is about a former model who was fired because she was too old and avenges herself by kidnapping her former employers; in the B-plot, Bruce is upset at losing an employee because he has hit the mandatory retirement age (Bruce is also feeling a bit sluggish, and starts checking himself for gray hairs). In the end, Bruce does away with mandatory retirement.
- The Animaniacs segment "Bully For Skippy" has Skippy having to deal with a bully at school, while Slappy has to deal with bullies of her own.
- Several Kim Possible episodes have such parallels between the "basic average girl" plot and the "here to save the world" plot. For instance, in "Coach Possible", observing Seņor Senior Senior's overly controlling attitude toward Junior helps Kim realize that she's being overly perfectionistic and demanding in coaching the soccer team.
- In Disney's Prep and Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, Wayne is shown to be jealous of his younger and more popular brother Noel. The villain, a girl named Grace Goodwin, despises her baby brother for ripping apart her favorite doll. Grace sees the error of her ways when she sees Wayne and Noel make up after a big fight and learns to appreciate her brother more.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Twilights Kingdom Part 1, Twilight's disappointment with not having been given much responsibility as a princess in the year since she became an alicorn is understandable, but in the Pep Talk Song, Luna alludes to how she had lost her own role during her 1000 year imprisonment as Nightmare Moon and the years after her reform before everypony accepted her back as Princess of the Night.