Subplots are everywhere

Well done. Congratulations. What a wild ride, huh? What an adventure. Life! Full of twists and turns. Not for the faint hearted, am I right? 

Want to take a quick break? Little lie down? Teensy nap? No worries. Step this way. We’ll just press pause on the universe for a bit.

Except, ah, we can’t. Humans, though occasionally clever, haven’t figured out how to pause time quite yet. 

What you can do though, if you’re getting a bit sick of the main storyline, is to notice the sub-plots. Glance at a few of the smaller characters. Glimpse the possibilities for future plot twists. Enjoy the scenery. Step back from the central story. It will sort itself out. Indulge in the rich detail of the world you’re in.  This is a Public Service Announcement. 

Notice the setting. Imagine it written on the page for a reader for whom this is magical realism. How on earth would you describe a rainbow, or the feeling of having had a shower, or why it is a human instinct to dip and surf your hand into the breeze out a car window or cartwheel on a beach?

Look up crown shyness. It’s the effect you see when you peer up at a tall tree and all the branches avoid jutting into one another’s personal space. It’s a total mystery why tree branches are shy of one another. Hopefully nobody figures it out and it remains a noble, gentle secret that happens around us all the time, only to be noticed by people who take the time to look up.  

Seriously, the setting is often the most amazing part. Look at open fires. Look at skyscrapers with the sun belting off them and the clouds reflected in their windows. Look at the way rain comes down the bus window and some of the bigger drops use the little drops to catch up with further down drops and get up so much speed they create whole highways. Just like crown shyness, this wonderful raindrop magnetism happens all the time. Little worlds of movement and activity, a kind of natural logic, that have nothing to do with whatever it is you’re worried about.

Other great elements of the set not to be disregarded include sheds, donut vans, little winding paths carved out in the bush, hills kids can roll down, and second-hand bookshops. 

Think about the characters. The people. The ones you know. The ones you don’t know. The fact that right now, in this instance, while you’re reading this, someone is experiencing a momentous event. Someone - NOW! - just this second, heart thumping, head full of sound - finally took the plunge and kissed someone. NOW! - this very second - the lights went down and the audience went silent on someone’s opening night and her heart flipped like a fish.  

Think about your favourite side characters. The ones you don’t see enough of but when they have a scene you sit back and really enjoy it.

Think of the special effects. The feeling of wearing new shoes. The way moisturiser feels after a walk on a windy beach. A thunderstorm. Icing.

There are other effects too. What about the bizarre non-human characters. The monsters. Bears. Crocodiles. Snakes. Politicians who snap “If I could just answer your question” at journalists before steadfastly not answering the question or indeed any question ever. Monsters are great to think about because you’re not one. You’re a human in a world where crocodiles and bears and snakes and Peter Dutton exist so you’re doing quite well really. 

Isn’t the lighting lovely. The way a car driving past in the street outside can send a triangle of light driving across your ceiling, elongating and then disappearing with the sound of the car. The way afternoon shadows make you feel a bit happy and a bit sad when really all that’s happening is that a series of objects are interrupting the sun’s journey to earth.

The sound design can be spectacular too. The sound of someone making a cup of tea in the other room: superb. The sound of beach cricket. The ABC news wafting like the smell of a Sunday roast from someone’s house when you’re walking the dog. The final siren at the footy. A bell bird. A sprinkler. The distant, insistent sound of church bells on a Sunday.

When you have a look at the mise en scene of life, you realise you’re  a small part of a series of intertwined narratives. Remember to enjoy the film. This has been a Public Service Announcement.

This is one of my columns commissioned by and printed in The Big Issues. Thanks to the Big Issue readers for having me, and please, when you can, buy a copy from a vendor.