Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 27, 2010

Prime Time Plotting Techniques

I found this article written by Larry Brooks on very interesting.  Below is just an excerpt.   Click the link at the bottom to read his whole article. 

Foreground Plot versus Background Plot

It sounds so simple once you hear it.  But it’s precisely the thing that keeps you coming back to a successful series and its lead character – in television and in novels – week after week, season and after season.

It goes without saying that a good story – your story – has a primary plotline.  Your character has a need, faces a problem, is in quest of a solution, embarks on a journey to reach a goal.

And of course, there is opposition to that goal, some person or force that stands in their way.  Sometimes that opposition resides within the hero (internal conflict), but usually it is an external antagonistic pressure that must be conquered, provided the internal demons are conquered first.

This is storytelling 101.  Think of this storyline, the one that launches at the First Plot Point in your story, as the foreground plot.

Now for the magic ingredient, straight out of the boob tube.

As the foreground plot unfolds, it does so in relationship to a background plot.  This is a pre-existing, more personal set of problems and life-circumstances for your hero that are either dealt with simultaneously with the foreground plot, or set aside temporarily while the foreground plot is addressed.


In The Good Wife, the hero’s politician husband is in prison for lying to the grand jury about his affair with a hooker.  Her teenage children are in rebellion, and she is a junior associate at a snotty law firm driven more by the politics of money than justice and client welfare.

And yet, every week, layered on top of this daunting set of circumstances and challenges, our hero is given a case to solve, an innocent to protect, a dark and shadowy icon of power to dethrone.

This foreground storyline resolves in an hour.  The background storyline remains from week to week. 

Also, don’t confuse background plot with character backstory.  

Backstory is what happened in the hero’s life before the story begins, thus defining the character’s world view, fears, preferences and inner demons. 

A background plot exists both before and throughout the story in question, and calls the character to action rather than simply defining their past experiences.

Hope this helps when setting up your plots.



  1. Great article!


  2. This is so timely. I actually had a idea for a novel after reading your post yesterday (Yes, me! I’m shocked too.) This is definitely going to help. Thank you.


  3. I just love this stuff, Kathy 🙂 I can’t seem to get enough reading about writing; it’s like an addiction. There were a few points in this blog that I hadn’t heard before, at least not in the effective way he put them, and I found it very helpful. Thank you!


  4. Perfect timing! Lol!


    • Mimi,

      I’m off to NYC for the conference. Keep working on that novel.



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