Tuesday, May 30, 2023

My Journey Through Becoming Free Indeed

I was going to call this a review, but it really isn't. It's less of a review and more of my thoughts on and experiences with legalism after reading Becoming Free Indeed by Jinger Duggar Vuolo. Though I will say, I highly recommend this book, especially if you have any past with legalism, however big or small.

Honestly, I don't have nearly the legalism experience or damage that I see in a lot of people I know. Definitely nowhere near Jinger's experience.

My parents were always very careful to not promote legalism. They came from a Catholic background, and so they were wary of things that were about external rules and works-based models. The only things vaguely along any of those lines I can remember hearing from my parents were the purity culture ideas of chaperones and saving your first kiss for your wedding day. And while I heard a decent amount of purity culture ideas from various sources growing up, I didn't even know IBLP/ATI existed until I was in my mid to upper teens.

Even so, my personality and personal experiences primed me to be susceptible to legalistic ideas when I encountered them as a high schooler.

I'm a very literal person. Sure, I like discussing philosophical ideas, but if you're around me long enough (actually, it doesn't take that long), you will notice that I almost always discuss those more abstract things by relating it to a story. I need analogies. I need something more tangible in order to truly understand. It is also very difficult for me to not have something physical and tangible to do. For instance, while I know in my mind that prayer is doing something, and it is doing something very important, I frequently feel as if I'm not doing anything about a situation if all I am doing—if all I can do—is pray. Even if I'm praying about it constantly.

My early experiences also primed me to find purity culture very attractive. When I was very small, my primary experience with boys was a very contentious relationship with my cousin. (Ironically, he's the cousin I get along best with now—and yes, I 100% credit Star Wars with the shift in our relationship because that was the first time we had something to talk about that didn't involve fighting.) But because of that, I labeled all boys as jerks and wanted nothing to do with them. So all the purity culture ideas were a great excuse for me to avoid all males.

The idea of stay at home daughters and being under your father's protection (though I honestly knew very little of what was behind those ideas and how it tends to play out) was intriguing to me because I'm kind of a homebody (though I do easily get stir crazy if I go nowhere for more than 2 or 3 days...try to figure that one out), I like being able to control my own schedule, I'm not a risk taker, I get along well with my parents, and the things I enjoy working at are mostly arts-oriented things, and, well, I've said many times that "starving artist" is a thing for a reason. However, once I was a few years out of high school with no marriage prospects, no sign of ever making a living writing or teaching music, and also no possibility of making enough to pay for my life working at the public library, I did start to reevaluate my plan because I've never thought it was right to expect my dad to pay the majority of my bills indefinitely simply because I'm female.

Finally, I've always known I'm a perfectionist, and I've had to admit finally that I'm also something of a control freak. I like to have my plan, I like to have a say in what happens and how things play out, and I have a really hard time accepting that most of the time I don't. And while I'll say all day long that no one is perfect, practice makes better, God's grace is sufficient for all our mistakes and imperfections—and I have no problem extending that grace to other people—I have a really hard time accepting that grace for myself. To the point I actually had a professor tell me I should just let go about a math homework problem I accidentally skipped and wanted to make up. It was very hard to just let it go, even though bonus points on the tests more than made up for the points lost by that homework problem.

But still, as a child and preteen, I really never thought about rules. I didn't think about all the external things that these legalistic systems promote.

That isn't to say that I didn't want to know God better and serve Him more. Becoming a Christian gave me a hunger for God that wasn’t borne out of rules or fear or other people’s expectations. There was definitely a time when I changed from looking at the maps in my Bible when I was in trouble because I knew my mom wouldn't yell at me for reading if it was the Bible to truly desiring to read the Word. I wanted to please God, but out of love, not out of external rules.

But then things changed, when I was about 15 years old. And I'm only now realizing and unpacking what those harmful ideas were and how they affected me. When a Bible verse triggers a meltdown in Sunday School because said verse brings up all kinds of fears and doubts you've tried to bury but can't leave behind, well, it's kind of hard to deny it all anymore.

When I was 15, we started attending a church that preached a lot of legalistic ideas and sowed a lot of fear. Two passages in particular I remember being used frequently at this church in a manner that seemed designed to scare you into following God: Matthew 7:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Jinger actually deals with the 1 Corinthians passage in her book, so I'll get to that in a minute. But the Matthew 7 verses were actually the ones that triggered my freak-out in Sunday School a few months ago. My current pastor preached those verses in a way that focused on grace. But for 2 1/2 years as a teenager, I heard them in a manner that caused me to doubt the sincerity of my faith. Coupled with other legalistic ideas at this church—such as strict ideas about Sabbath-keeping and the idea that Nativity scenes were probably breaking the second commandment by containing an image of Jesus, as if we’re worshiping our Precious Moments Nativity scene with the Lincoln Log stable at Christmastime (and yes, I did at the time think maybe we shouldn’t put it up even though previously I was all about the parts of Christmas that focus on Jesus)—I was constantly worried that I wasn't a good enough Christian. I needed to do more things to serve God so that God wouldn't tell me He never knew me.

It's only recently that I put together the (slight, compared to some) anxiety I tend to have over taking communion with the emphasis of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. I was (and sometimes still am) afraid that some unconfessed or unrealized sin will mean I am taking communion unworthily. This is something Jinger struggled with for years. In her case, she would abstain from communion if she thought there was any chance she could be taking it unworthily. I've never abstained from communion, but not for any better reason than she did abstain. The majority of the churches I was raised in emphasized that anyone who was a Christian could take the Lord's Supper. And so I have always been concerned that if I skipped, people would think I'm not a Christian and since I didn't want that, I would take it anyway, hoping that I wasn't taking it unworthily and condemning myself. This pattern has been in place as recently as this year. What Jinger pointed out is that the whole passage is condemning those who use the Lord's Supper to feast and get drunk. That's not what the Lord's Supper is for. It is to commemorate Christ's death on the cross, to remember that He died to pay for our sins so that we can be free of our sin and someday live with Him forever in Heaven. We literally can't come to Him sinless and without fault. If remembering and confessing and repenting of every little sin we've committed was necessary to take communion worthily, none of us could. No one can actually identify and remember every sin they've committed, and I really don't think God wants us obsessing over all our mistakes. That just leads to constant guilt and condemnation rather than freedom and grace, which is what Jinger covers in her book far better than I am doing now. The point of the Lord's Supper is not to get us to worry and wallow in fear and condemnation, but to remember and celebrate that Jesus' blood has washed away our sins. And I hope that through God's grace, next time my church does communion, I can partake without any worry and guilt about my worthiness.

Something else that Jinger covered in her book that really hit home was on Bible reading. Reading your Bible is a very good thing. It is important to dig into the Word of God, to spend time with Him, learning about Him, growing closer to Him. But it is not supposed to be a burden or an obligation. When I first became a Christian around the age of 9, I remember truly wanting to spend lots of time reading the Bible. I still have wonderful times when I dig into the Word and really enjoy seeing what God has to say. And during my horrible fall semester when I was so sick and overworked, I spent a lot of time drawing comfort from Psalm 46. But I, like Jinger, have also had many times when I felt like a bad Christian if I didn't read my Bible because I was sick or having a migraine or whatever life thing that happened to make it difficult. For Jinger, sometimes it's things like kids getting up earlier than expected, something which doesn't apply to me. But the thing is the same. What she said about it really stood out to me: 
"I still have feelings of guilt when I don't read the Bible as much as I think I should....In those times, when guilt wants to rise in my soul and condemn me, I remind myself that the Bible doesn't tell me how much I'm supposed to read it. It does tell me to love it, understand it, and believe it. By not condemning myself when I miss a morning, I'm no longer being stricter than Jesus." (pg. 186-187)
I've spent a lot of time over the last decade feeling like I'm not a good enough Christian because I haven't spent "enough" time reading the Bible on a given day. But Jinger's right, God doesn't tell us how often to read the Bible, how much at a time, what time of day to read it or any of that. It says to know the Word, to hide it in our hearts, to love God, and all that. But honestly, I don't need to feel guilty if the first thing I do when I wake up isn't open my Bible. Because it's really okay that I'd rather not be half asleep when I read it. And it's okay if I miss a day because I had a migraine for hours. Or if I can't keep up with a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan because that's just a lot and there's a lot on my plate now. But it is hard to not feel guilty about it.

That church wasn't the only place I found legalistic ideas that were harmful to me. Around that same timeframe I was a part of a Bible study that was based on material by Sarah Mally. I want to be clear that I do not hold the Bible study leader responsible for any of the legalism I experienced from Mally's materials. That leader is a very dear friend of mine who has been an incredible influence in my life and I still respect and look up to her tremendously (literally and figuratively, lol). I also still do not feel as if the lessons she actually taught pushed legalism. But the fact remains that it was through that that I received Mally's materials and I dutifully read all of it. There was one handout in particular that I really remember, one on polluting influences. In it, Mally discusses how her family got rid of their TV. She also discusses the bad influences of rock music and romance novels, things which I now recognize as being quite reminiscent of ATI teachings. When I read about how her family got rid of their TV, my first thought was that it seemed a bit extreme. But then worry and guilt crept in. Did I only think it was extreme because I was too attached to TV? Maybe it was a sign I wasn't actually willing to cut out polluting influences. What other things might I have in my life that I should get rid of?

The handout actually encouraged a TV fast. And I legitimately considered it. Ultimately, I didn't do it, because I had a feeling if I suggested it to my parents it probably wouldn't fly. I still don't think it would have. My mom cautioned me against legalism as a teen. But it did plant seeds of doubt about if I was a good enough Christian. If my family was doing enough to be Christlike. If I was holding onto things that were pulling me away from God by watching television. And honestly, the stuff I watched when I was in high school wasn't anything anyone should have worried about. Honestly, if 17-year-old me knew that 25-year-old me would watch The Office and enjoy it, well, to say I'd have been horrified would be putting it mildly. But that fear does still sometimes crop up. Should I have watched The Office as an adult? 

This, and Understanding the Times by David Noebel, caused me to start to even question the acceptability of speculative fiction. Yes, I questioned whether I should be reading Narnia and watching Star Wars. This was honestly, looking back, probably what pushed me into sorting out where I stand on writing fantasy magic. I do think it was a good thing that I sorted that out. I needed to know what I believe on it, and it was important that I do that research and prayer and soul searching. While I don't feel like I did a fabulous job articulating where I landed back when I was writing Time Captives, I haven't really changed where I ultimately landed. But it was a rough time for me, filled with guilt and worry.

It's pretty commonly known what the oppositions are to magic. I've already written about that. But I didn't really write about the fact that Understanding the Times made me think for years that it was probably sinful for me to watch and enjoy Star Wars. That book had frequent "pop culture connections" that used pop culture to illustrate different worldviews. Star Wars and The Lion King, I remember, were always cast in a negative light, used to showcase the dangers of cosmic humanism. My small comfort was that at least Narnia and LOTR were always in the Christianity section, so maybe at least those were okay. Now, I will admit that my initial Star Wars obsession was excessive and I badly needed to take a break. But I finally came around to the point of view that it's not inherently sinful for me to like Star Wars. Was Understanding the Times correct that there are some things in it that are incompatible with Christianity? Absolutely. But what I didn't get then, and by God's grace do now, is that it's actually helpful in developing your worldview to be able to sort out the good from the bad, to see the things that are true and helpful, and discern the things that are not. None of us will ever be able to read or watch things that we 100% agree with, and I did see that back when I read the "polluting influences" handout. But what I worried back then was that that meant I shouldn't be enjoying any of these stories that weren't 100% biblically accurate. Maybe I shouldn't watch anything secular. Maybe I shouldn't read anything with magic. And let me tell you, the idea that I possibly shouldn't read The Chronicles of Narnia, even knowing how many scriptural truths it illustrated for me, was one of the hardest things I ever had to work through. I definitely should have discussed it with my mom more than I did because she would have steered me away from this legalism, this worry that all these stories I grew up on were actually polluting and dangerous. 

I am very grateful that speculative fiction is one issue I have fully (or at least I think fully) worked through and put behind me. But writing about it, remembering that time, is making me tear up because it was hard. It was a heavy burden. But as Jinger pointed out in her book, God didn't put us under a burden. That burden is manmade. Stricter than Jesus. Because what Jesus actually said is that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Come to Him, all who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest.

I’m a checklist person. And while this is incredibly helpful in making sure I turn in my school assignments on time, it’s very unhelpful in understanding Christianity. It makes me feel the same as when I put too many things on my to-do list and can’t get them all done in the day: unworthy, guilty, ashamed, a failure. That’s not what God wants for us. It says in Galatians that the law is a tutor to point us to Christ; in other words, it’s there to show us we can’t be perfect, but that we don’t need to be because Christ did it for us. 

This is why the “you are enough” thing is such a pet peeve of mine. I do personally struggle with thinking I should be enough, that I need to do more to be a good enough Christian. And like Jinger says, we should want to be more like Christ. But we’re never going to be able to follow enough rules to earn God’s favor and that’s not how He does it anyway. God in His perfect love sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Not because we loved Him, but because He loved us. We don’t have to clean up our lives before we go to Him. We don’t have to fear that we’ll mess up and cause Him to turn away from us because His perfect love casts out fear, He died for us while we were yet sinners, and any that come to Him, He will not cast out. It’s not ever anything we do, it’s what God does. His love is perfected with us that when the day of judgment comes, we can have confidence and not fear. 

There are so many verses about God’s love. Yes, God hates sin and He is very clear about what sin is and what the punishment is. But the Bible isn’t a rule book, something Jinger explains in depth. The Bible is God’s story, a book that tells of His character and His love for His children that is so great we really can’t even begin to understand it. God gives good gifts to His children because He is good and He loves us. So there is no need for us to be stricter than God and place extra burdens upon ourselves and others. Jesus died for us so that we could be free of the burden and punishment of our sins, and so that we could be with Him forever. And in Him, we are free indeed. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

Chuck vs. the Subplot

Hi, I'm Morgan. Here are a few things you need to know, or maybe you just forgot.


It's been awhile. Pretty good semester on the whole, but I'm not here to talk about that. Rather, I'm here to talk about the show I watched throughout the semester. That show being Chuck

This year, my family finally watched Chuck. I say finally because I've wanted to watch it for years (I only knew that it stars Zachary Levi and J. Grace Pennington likes it, but that was enough for me), but any time we were ready for a new show, it had gone off streaming. Until now.

After the first episode, I was super confused, partly because I didn't actually know the premise (computer nerd accidentally downloads government secrets into his brain, becomes a CIA asset and eventually a spy himself—in a nutshell, it gets way more complicated than that), but it wasn't long before I was completely hooked. About halfway through the series (I just watched the finale and I DON'T WANT IT TO BE OVER), it hit me that one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much was because it is actually well-written. Shouldn't be a novelty, right?

Now, I'm not going to pretend Chuck is a perfect show. It's not, no show is. There were definitely some story arcs that felt less developed than others and I didn't love every narrative decision. But overall, on the whole, it's an extremely well-written show and I think there's a lot that can be learned from it as a writer. And the first thing that struck me about the writing was the handling of subplots.

Subplots can be tricky. I've seen a lot of complaining about subplots in various newer shows, and I can't exactly argue with that. A lot of shows handle subplots poorly, and I have to admit, it has caused me to quit some shows. *cough* The Flash *cough* I'm just theorizing here, but I think it's at least partially due to a misunderstanding of the role of subplots and supporting characters.

Pulling a definition off the internet, subplots are "A literary technique, subplot is a secondary plot, or a strand of the main plot that runs parallel to it and supports it. It is usually found in plays, novels, short stories, television shows, and movies. It is also known as a “minor story,” or as “B” or “C” story. Its purpose is to add complexity and depth to the story, and thereby increases tension – a state of high interest and suspense about events in a story....The function of subplot is to describe hidden impulses behind actions of the major characters. While this secondary strand has two effects on a storyline, mostly it ties directly to the main plot and characters, putting an immediate effect on situations and characters. However, an alternative way is that subplots run parallel to the main story. This serves as a contrast to explain decisions of the leading characters." —LiteraryDevices.net

What I've seen in a startling number of shows—but not in Chuck—is that the subplots and secondary characters take over the main narrative to the point that the main narrative practically doesn't exist anymore and the protagonist is constantly sidelined, sometimes barely scoring any screen time. Two examples: The Flash season 6/7 on (I don't remember exactly; it's been awhile and 6 and 7 kind of bleed into each other due to the filming of 6 being interrupted by COVID lockdowns) and The Mandalorian season 3. In The Flash, which I loved for the first several seasons, it got to a point where episodes were constantly focused on the stories of minor characters, such as the episode where Cecile was psychically trapped in a mental hospital, the episodes that were all about Killer Frost, and the episode about Allegra and her cousin that occurred while Barry and Iris were on vacation and barely cameoed. It got to the point where by the end of season 7, I was constantly hoping in vain for an episode to actually be about the titular character and then quit the show in frustration. Occasionally I check IG comments on the official account to see that it hasn't gotten better; if anything, it's gotten worse. In The Mandalorian season 3, we really got very little about Din and Grogu at all. For most of it, they were just kind of there and it was pretending to be Bo Katan's story. And yet, then we had the episode about Dr. Pershing, which I did find to be interesting, but that took almost the entirety of the screen time of the episode and then had very little effect on the finale compared to the time they devoted to it. Same sort of thing in The Book of Boba Fett. There was an entire episode all about Din Djarin, just so that he could be in the finale and Grogu could be back with him in Mando season 3. In a show that was purportedly about Boba Fett becoming a crime lord as he takes over what used to be Jabba's (and Bib Fortuna's in the interim).²

There are two problems here to unpack: Narrative purpose and screen time allocation. Both are things that, generally speaking, Chuck does very well.

Screen time allocation is a little quicker and easier to discuss, so I'll address it first. In an episodic, serialized format, it is a bad (very risky at best) idea to devote an entire or nearly entire episode to the development of a subplot. I admit, I'm a little biased here because I'm the sort of person who tends to zone out during chapters in books that aren't about my favorite characters. However, it doesn't take a detective (or at least, it only takes a FB detective) to see that there is a significant portion of people who are also frustrated by this trend of taking leave of the main narrative and main characters for an extended period of time to develop a subplot and minor characters. Chuck doesn't do this. Just like it does a good job of balancing action and emotional scenes, it does a really good job of allocating adequate time to subplots without overwhelming the main narrative. Typically it does this by interspersing quick scenes that flash (get it? 🤪 yes, I know I'm a dork) back and forth with the main story, which often has longer scenes and more of them strung together. In a novel, you can afford to make your subplot chunks a little larger, though I would warn writers against spending too big a chunk of time on a secondary plot. As a Narnia fan, I love the book Prince Caspian, but other disagreements with the film aside, I do think it was a wise decision to intersperse Caspian's storyline with the Pevensies' rather than taking a break from their story to have Trumpkin tell Caspian's story in full. Same deal with the structure of the LOTR movies. Particularly in a visual medium, this works better. And when you are working with a serial format, it's especially important not to spend large chunks of time with a subplot because then your installment for the week has nothing to do with the main characters and a lot of viewers are liable to quit. 

That leads to my other, more important, point. The narrative purpose of a subplot is to flesh out and support the main narrative. The subplot is the B story. It should never be given more time than the A story, and it should never take away the focus from the main narrative. As stated in our definition, it should add complexity and depth to the main story, describe the motivations of the main characters, and tie directly into the main plot. While screen time allocation could be relatively easily fixed by deleting some scenes and chopping up the remaining sequences to intersperse with the main narrative, this poor understanding of the purpose of a subplot is a major structural, storytelling problem that takes a lot more work and understanding of story to fix.

When we take a look at the later seasons of The Flash and season 3 of The Mandalorian, it's actually difficult to discern what the main narrative actually is. Does it have one? Does it involve the protagonist? What does the subplot have to do with the main plot? 

The Flash episode about Allegra and her cousin while Barry and Iris are on vacation doesn't really seem to have any role in supporting any story Barry is involved in. In fact, it is the third episode of a set literally considered an "interlude." Maybe Allegra's story is interesting. Maybe it ought to be told. But reality is, the show is The Flash. The first several seasons were Barry's story. Barry was established as the protagonist and so any subplots ought to function to support Barry's story. Whereas at this point in the show, Barry really doesn't have much of a story besides the ongoing drama of when he and Iris will have a baby and whether or not it will be the same Nora they know from the future. And if the subplot you're writing is the more interesting one where there's actually a story to tell, you need to reevaluate the story you're telling. Perhaps you're telling the wrong one. If you're several seasons into a show and resorting to turning subplots into main narratives and secondary characters into protagonists while sidelining the original protagonist, it just might be a sign the show has gone on for far too long and you should have wrapped it up already. And if this side character's story is one that needs to be told, the better way to tell it is by creating a spinoff, not by hijacking the original show.

The Mandalorian season 3 suffers the same issue. The first two seasons were clearly about Din and Grogu. They had clear series goals. And while there sometimes seemed to be too many side quests and filler episodes, there weren't large chunks of time devoted to other narratives. I'm not really sure what the point of season 3 was. You had Din's goal of rejoining the Children of the Watch, resolved at the beginning of episode 3 before diverting to Dr. Pershing for the majority of the episode. You had Bo's quest to take back Mandalore which was disjointed and interrupted by side quests that really didn't feed into the goal in any obvious, significant way (like Jack Black and Lizzo's planet). You had the Dr. Pershing episode, which I did feel like was going somewhere...only it didn't. I guess the point was to show that the greater galaxy wasn't going to find out about Gideon's cloning experiments? When there's no clear main narrative and the protagonist gets sidelined, even the subplots end up feeling purposeless. What are they supporting and fleshing out? Not really anything. It leaves everything feeling disjointed and pointless. Honestly, my favorite parts of season 3 were seeing the purrgils, Zeb's 30 seconds of screen time, and Gilad Pellaeon's hologram appearance...all nods towards the upcoming Ahsoka.

Then we come to Chuck. Chuck's subplots really fit within our definition of a subplot. They support and flesh out the main narrative, develop Chuck's actions and motivations, parallel the main narrative in meaningful ways, and feed into the climax of the main storyline. I cannot recall a single episode where I felt that Chuck Bartowski was sidelined (being told to stay in the van is a different matter entirely, lol) or where the subplot seemed to overshadow the main plot or be irrelevant to the narrative. Again, not saying it's perfect—I think the latter half of season 4 could have been developed a little better/more cohesively had those episodes not been ordered after the first 13 had been developed and begun airing—but it's much better done than a lot of shows I've seen in the last few years.

I do think there is a bit of a shift in the role of the subplots as Chuck gets more settled into the spy life and more of his friends and family find out about it. Some characters, such as Morgan Grimes, shift from being primarily B story characters to being primarily A story characters and some secondary characters, such as Ellie and Awesome, are more relevant to the A story than the B story and vice versa simply depending on the episode. 

In early seasons, the subplots do a lot more to contrast Chuck's old normal life with his new spy life. Dinner plans with his sister Ellie that get derailed. Jeff and Lester being, well, Jeff and Lester and Chuck having to manage them. Emmett coming to take over the Buy More and having a problem with Chuck being constantly gone though all the employees say that Chuck is the one who keeps things going, provides their moral compass, and holds the team together. Ellie and Morgan bonding over missing Chuck. These sorts of things don't always necessarily relate to the plot per se, but they always do something to flesh out Chuck as the main character, to develop who he is, what his motivations are, what he's giving up to be a spy, who he is trying to protect.

But often times, they do also relate to the plot itself. A few examples.

In "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror" there's a subplot that involves Jeff and Lester being put in charge of decorating the Buy More for Halloween. They create the "Aisle of Terror" based on a psychological experiment Jeff was once involved in that shows images meant to be terrifying and disturbing to the psychotic (public showers, babies in snail costumes, old people, etc.). It might seem random, but in the end, Chuck and the bad guy of the week get infected with a toxin that causes terror, and when they go into the "Aisle of Terror" Chuck is able to use the images to incapacitate him.

Throughout several episodes in season 2, there is a recurring subplot where Ellie delegates some of the wedding planning to her fiancé Awesome and his search involves letting Jeff and Lester audition as their band Jeffster. They're pretty terrible. But then in the season finale, Ellie's wedding is crashed by evil Fulcrum agents and they need to delay the ceremony. Out comes Jeffster. And Jeffster recurs throughout the series to the point where in the series finale, they play at the end of a symphony in order to buy Chuck time to defuse a bomb that will explode when the music stops. 

Finally, throughout a good portion of season 4, there is a recurring subplot wherein Ellie inherits her and Chuck's dad's laptop and is trying to access the files and discover why he left it to her—actually to both her and Chuck. It's something that pops up in occasional scenes involving Ellie and Awesome (and quite a few Buy More employees 😂), and eventually leads into a join with the main storyline and the discovery of Agent X...which...okay, I won't spoil everything but that's an important plot element in season 4.

There are many more examples I could give, but this post is already more than long enough and if you're still with me, congratulations on your long attention span and devotion to my ramblings. The point is, these subplots in Chuck do exactly what a subplot should: flesh out the main character and feed into the main plot. Rather than taking away from the main storyline or muddying the waters and making it unclear what the main storyline is, they enhance it, deepen it, and support. it.

So when you add a subplot to your writing, make sure you know what purpose it serves. Make sure it supports the A story, fleshes out or supports the main character in some way, isn't irrelevant, and is given an appropriate amount of space in the narrative. The moment it distracts from the A story is the moment you need to consider rethinking it. But a well told subplot can truly make a story great.

And on that note...

Disclaimer: Storytelling is an art form, and art by nature contains subjectivity. Nothing in this post is intended to disparage anyone who enjoyed my negative examples or those who created them, nor is it intended to shame anyone who did not enjoy my positive examples. It is only intended to be an academic analysis of why certain stories worked for me and many others while other stories did not. If you disagree with my conclusions, you are 100% entitled to that opinion, but do note that my opinion on this matter is settled and as I am starting summer classes soon, I have better things to do with my time than argue on the internet about storytelling.

¹ While I adore this show and highly recommend it for adults, it is NOT a children's show. Therefore, I do not recommend it for children and strongly encourage parental discretion for teens based on your family's content standards. 

² I still consider myself a Star Wars superfan and CW's The Flash remains the only DC property I've actually really loved, but reality is, both made some mistakes in writing. Also, I am not saying these things to trash either property, but simply to illustrate my point for educational purposes.