If you read with a keen eye, you will notice that every single novel includes a second, less-emphasized story along with its primary story. This is the B Story. It's the secondary storyline of the novel, but just because it isn't in the spotlight doesn't mean we can ignore it.
The B Story often brings a new perspective to the main character. In many ways, this story contrasts the primary story: In a romance novel, the B Story may involve the main character's work or family life; in a thriller, it can offer a lighthearted angle to an otherwise intense story. Additionally, the B Story can introduce new characters, which add depth to your main character in how he or she interacts with others.
In my opinion, the B Story is one distinctive feature between a short story or novella and a novel. It helps to add pages, of course, but it also helps to prevent "story fatigue" in the reader. As writers, we are asking quite a lot of our readers -- to stick with our story for hours, days, sometimes even months. We also need to take them into consideration. How boring would it be to read 300+ pages of the exactly same story, with no change in tempo or volume? I tend to relate a story with a piece of music. The longer the piece, the more necessary it is to add texture through pace, volume, and tone. The same is true with writing a story.
Beyond the reader experience, the B Story offers a variety of benefits to us as writers. It allows us to create depth in our character through the way he or she responds to different circumstances and interacts with different characters. Remember, you'll likely introduce new people into your character's life here. In the same way that we have different "groups" of people in our lives, our characters interact with different people in their different circumstances.
Also, it allows us as authors to explore different angles in our story. Perhaps including this B story exposes some plot holes in our A story. If our story takes place in a different world or realm, the B Story gives us the opportunity to dive into other areas of these new places.
The B Story is not the change in perspective from the hero to the villain. I'm not saying you can't include this switch in point of view -- it certainly has been done successfully in many novels -- but there isn't enough contrast in the story for it to be included as the B Story. It would actually be included as part of the A Story instead, because it follows the same plot arc. The B story is generally a different story line altogether.
However, while the B Story is a separate story line, it's a second story line that relates back to the A Story. It's not the opportunity to follow a completely different tangent. The two stories should be parallel. As I mentioned above, part of the purpose of the B Story is to offer texture to the A Story.
Do you find the idea of a B Story intimidating? How do you plan to include it in your book (read next week's post for tips on this)? In what already published books do you find good examples of the B Story?