Introducing a B story is an element of many novels. While your A story is the main narrative, the B story introduces richness and complexity.
Here is the text of Chapter 6 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit. In Chapter 6 we introduce a completely new character, Kolya the Russian, and his relationship with the antagonist, Uli Wenger. So I’ve used this chapter to explore the principle of introducing a B story.
Analysing the thriller: opening chapters
So far in analysing the opening chapters of Blood Summit we have looked at:
- Prologue: how to start a novel
- Chapter 1: chapter 1 of a thriller
- Chapter 2: point of view (POV) in novels
- Chapter 3: how to build characters
- Chapter 4: more on POV
- Chapter 5: building jeopardy
The novel: introducing a B story
The aim of introducing a B story is to carry the theme of the main story (the A story), often by introducing some intriguing parallel action or new characters. The idea is to deepen the mystery and excitement of the story, encouraging the reader to dig deeper – and ideally stay up all night.
In Chapter 6 of Blood Summit, antagonist Uli Wenger goes into a wood for reasons that are not at first clear. There, a mysterious Russian appears – his name is Kolya. Kolya appears in some of my other thrillers – he is a highly trained ex-naval officer from the Soviet Pacific Fleet, based in Vladivostok. It is not at first clear whether he is a hero or a villain. Read on…
The Reichstag dome. Bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”
INTRODUCING A B STORY: BLOOD SUMMIT: CHAPTER 6
One day, Uli Wenger thought, he would be tagged. If he lived that long. The technology existed: the state would inject a chip into each citizen and track them by satellite. If Uli were in charge, he would have people tagged tomorrow. He would want to know where everyone was, so he could torment them as they had tormented him.
But for now, there were no tags. That was good. Otherwise, what he planned for tomorrow would be impossible. The insects had saved him. The insects hated change. They liked their old-fashioned ID cards, which could be forged and bought and fixed.
They did not want the government to know where they were. So Uli could stay what he wanted to be. Someone who officially did not exist.
On the path through the Grunewald forest he stopped in the shade of a tree and waited ten minutes. The man he was seeing today troubled him. Last time they had met, in an old Prussian fort in the west of the city, Ivan had tracked Uli all the way to the rendezvous point. Uli had seen nothing. That would not happen again.
He felt sweat prickle on his back. The afternoon was close and still. Every cop in Berlin was at the Reichstag, or the British embassy. The woods were quiet. Not even a snake could move silently amongst the twigs and leaves. Not even Ivan, surely. Uli listened, then resumed the gentle climb.
It was a shame he could not meet the man who was paying for all this. Herr Kraft, Uli called him, Mr Power. Uli thought he knew who it was. But for such a man to meet Uli Wenger was impossible. A personality, meeting an un-person. And so, today, Uli would meet another un-person. His name could not really be Ivan. That was too Russian, too generic. Somewhere nearby, he would be waiting, checking for the all-clear, like Uli. Ivan didn’t trust anyone either.
At a clearing, Uli stepped off the path, settled on a fallen log, and sat so still that after a few seconds a sparrow was within a metre of him, fussing among the leaves. He needed no book or newspaper to pass the time: he was content to stare ahead, eyes blank, mind roaming. Now he was watching them hurt Mouse and planning how he would strike back. Then, after he had rescued her, she had lain there in the bath-tub with her pale, perfect skin, eyes closed, so beautiful. Still, and silent. The water so red.
It took all his self-control not to move. Someone had spoken right in front of him. Yet he had seen nothing. Heard nothing.
‘Hello there.’ He glanced at the bushes by the path. No-one.
Ivan peered round the trunk of the tree behind which he was sitting, hidden from sight. ‘Hi. Good to see you again.’ His smile was so regular, his hair so blond, his back so straight, it gave Uli the creeps. He looked like a cop, or one of those perfect workers from the old socialist realism murals in East Berlin. Today it was the off-duty look: trainers, sweatshirt and jeans, dull colours for the June forest. No need to get excited. There were no Russian cops in Berlin these days. And not many cops gave you money to kill people.
The Russian walked towards him. Uli kept his hand in his coat pocket, as if he might have a weapon. The pocket was empty, of course. The cops would never search Uli. But if they did, they would always find him clean.
Ivan sat down next to Uli. Like a walker stopping to consult a map. He paused, listening perhaps, then pulled from his inside pocket a newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, folded to a certain page. Ivan was a professional too. Nothing to attract attention if he were stopped. The Russian spread the page out on his knee and pointed to eight faces among a panel of photographs, a group of men and women.
‘One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.’
Uli looked at the faces. He recognised them all. He cared about none of them. He turned to Ivan. ‘Is that it?’
‘A personal request. No Russians.’
‘I cannot promise anything. We are not talking about a surgical strike.’
The Russian folded his newspaper. ‘Do what I say. I know who you are.’
You cannot conceive of who I am. ‘Some of my people hate Russians.’
‘You will answer for them.’ Ivan nodded. ‘Do you have something for me?’
‘Yes. Usual place.’ Uli did not need to say out loud the latest security reports for the Children’s Summit, sanitised as usual.
‘Your sources are good.’
‘Yes.’ Uli did not bother to smile.
‘Enjoy your walk.’ The Russian rose to go. ‘You remember? One to eight?’
‘No problem.’ Uli stood too. Nothing had changed hands: anything they needed physically to transfer passed through a series of left-luggage lockers at the Berlin Central Station. Not an incriminating word had been spoken: like Uli, the Russian was passionate about the threat of technical surveillance. Ivan did not say goodbye, but simply walked away. It was tempting to follow and find out where he went. But Ivan was crafty. And Uli had no time. If he did not return to town soon, others would be wondering where he was. That was a risk he could not take. Not when he stood on the brink of an achievement which would pay back everything. Even Mouse.
I hope you have enjoyed Chapter 6 of Blood Summit, and the way I have used it to illustrate the principle of introducing a B story. Do feel free to buy a copy of the novel.
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You can read the first few chapters of the novel at my Blood Summit page.
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