The B-Plot: The Hidden Emotional Hook Running Through All Great Podcasts

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

On the surface, Harry Potter— perhaps the most successful story of our time—is about a young wizard’s struggle to defeat the most powerful (and evil) wizard in history… and avenge his parents in the process.

It’s a fantastic premise, as is the world built up around it.

It’s not particularly relatable, however…

Fortunately, it also happens to be a story about something else. Something you don’t need to be a witch or wizard or orphan to connect with.

Behind the wands and the lore, Harry Potter is really a story of maturation.

Of moving from naive and disempowered to wise and powerful.

And perhaps most resonant, of discovering who you are and where you fit in the world.

While the juicy external plot explores a world of magic duels, fantastic beasts, and secrets worlds hidden in plain sight, the internal plot explores ideas of coming to terms with painful events of the past, making just and noble decisions in working through them, and choosing how to act in the face of conflict and temptation.

Make no mistake, it’s the spectacular premise of the wizarding world that attracts readers in the first place.

But it’s the emotional resonance and personal relatability underpinning it that truly hooks and keeps us reading through all 4,100 pages of the series.

In the world of screenwriting and story development, this emotional journey is known as the B-Plot.

And it shows up in podcasting as well.

At least the good ones.

Like Harry Potter, listeners are attracted to a show’s external premise.

But what hooks them on an emotional level, keeps them coming back, and has them enthusiastically recommending the show to everyone who will listen is the presence of a deeper narrative undergirding the surface-level action.

As an example, let’s consider a show which on the surface is about email marketing for creative business owners.

The surface-level A-Plot is practical and perhaps even desireable… if perhaps a bit utilitarian.

Based on the A-Plot alone, it feels like a show we might seek out based on necessity, intending to binge through juuuuuuuust enough episodes to learn what we need to learn… and then never think of it again.

But what if we were to layer on a B-Plot?

Perhaps the show weaves its technical, tactical advice into the more expansive, resonant, and deeply human theme of having agency and control over your creative career… not to mention life as a whole.

Email, after all, is one of the few mediums where you own the means of connecting with your audience, making it a uniquely valuable tool for creators who are often at the whims of unpredictable algorithms and billion-dollar tech companies that treat creators as disposable commodities.

Now we’re starting to get somewhere.

With a well-formed and executed B Plot designed around something we care deeply about—our destiny as creators and business owners—it’s entirely possible the otherwise utilitarian show hooks us on a deeper level that keeps us coming back long after we’ve learned what we thought we needed to learn.

This is one of the central roles of the B-Plot.

Done right, the B Plot provides the fabric that ties a collection of discrete episodes together and gives them meaning beyond their individual utility.

It’s worth noting that you need both a solid A-Plot and a solid B-Plot.

Without an enticing and useful A-Plot (the external premises of both the show as a whole as well as each individual episode), there’s nothing tangible for listeners to latch onto in the first place.

The result is a navel-gazey show with no clear grounding, application, or tangible hook.

Without a resonant B-plot on the other hand, there’s no deeper connective tissue of meaning or purpose to the show.

The result here is a collection of information listeners are happy to download into their brains and then discard.

Fortunately for us, good B-Plots are all around us.

Growing up.

Finding our place in the world.

Seeking acceptance and respect from those around us.

Grasping at some sense of control over the direction of our lives in an unpredictable universe.

And ultimately, confronting, and making peace with—or not—death.

These are just a few of the universal but deeply personal themes that are commonly addressed in B-Plots, each of which intersects in multiple ways with every topic imaginable.

Including yours.

Your job is to find one—perhaps the one that most strongly animates your work—and weave it into the fabric of your show.

You might never message this underlying B-Plot publicly.

Or maybe you will.

Regardless, it’s enough for you to know it exists.

To use it to guide, anchor, and connect your episodes.

And in doing so, imbuing your show with greater purpose, meaning, and resonance.

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