Oh my, where to begin? Remember in my last blog http://bit.ly/onceuponatheme, I said theme and plot were different? It’s only fair I talk about plot today. I’ll start with why genre fiction often gets slammed for not being “good enough” to be considered real writing. “It’s formulaic.” “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.” “They are all the same. They just change places and names.”
Anyone who’s researched plot has found that there are no new plots. It is how the writer presents them with twists, freshness, and unique voice that makes the book successful. Check out the internet and you will find 7, 20, and 36 plots, all with overlaps of one or more component. This is true for the classic literature as well as any modern literary work.
Going back to the difference between theme and plot, I shared that my theme usually involves transformation. My books with that theme involve: a waitress & a teacher in a romance; a home health care nurse & a bounty hunter in a romantic suspense; a librarian & a cop in a romantic suspense; and a photojournalist & a land developer in a paranormal light. All very different plots with the same theme.
Skim through the following, but don’t let it make you crazy. I would argue that plot and theme are merged a number of times.
7 Basic Plots according to the Internet Public Library:
- [wo]man vs. nature
- [wo]man vs. man
- [wo]man vs. the environment
- [wo]man vs. machines/technology
- [wo]man vs. the supernatural
- [wo]man vs. self
- [wo]man vs. god/religion
20 Basic Plots by Ronald Tobias, author of “Twenty Basic Plots”
Ronald B. Tobias, 20 Master Plots, and how to build them, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993 for explanations.
Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations
- Supplication: Persecutor, Suppliant, Authority Figure
- Deliverance: Unfortunate, Threatener, Rescuer
- Crime Pursued by Vengeance: Criminal, Avenger
- Vengeance taken for Kindred upon Kindred: Avenger, Guilty Remembrance, a Relative of Both
- Pursuit: Punishment and Fugitive
- Disaster: Vanquished Power, Victorious Enemy, Messenger.
- Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune: Unfortunate, Master
- Revolt: Tyrant, Conspirator
- Daring Enterprise: Bold Leader, Object, Adversary
- Abduction: Abductor, the Abducted, Guardian
- Enigma: Interrogator, Seeker, Problem
- Obtaining: Solicitor, Adversary or Arbitrator & Opposing Parties
- Enmity of Kinsmen: Malevolent Kinsmen, Reciprocally Hated Kin
- Rivalry of Kinsmen: Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kin, Object
- Murderous Adultery: Two Adulterers, Murdered Spouse
- Madness: Madman, Victim
- Fatal Imprudence: Imprudent, Victim, Object Lost
- Involuntary Crimes of Love: Lover, Beloved, Revealer
- Slaying of Kinsman Unrecognized: Slayer, Unrecognized Victim
- Self-sacrificing for an Ideal: Hero, Ideal, Creditor, Sacrifice
- Self-sacrificing for Kindred: Hero, Kinsman, Creditor, Sacrifice
- All Sacrificed for Passion: Lover, Object of Passion, Sacrifice
- Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones: Hero, Beloved, Necessity
- Rivalry of Superior & Inferior: Superior, Inferior, Object
- Adultery: Two Adulterers, Betrayed Spouse
- Crimes of Love: Lover, Beloved, Social Norm
- Discovery of Dishonor of Beloved: Discoverer, Guilty One
- Obstacles to Love: Two Lovers, Obstacles
- An Enemy Loved: Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater
- Ambition: Ambitious Person, Thing Coveted, Adversary
- Conflict with (a) God: A Mortal, an Immortal or Holy Principle
- Mistaken Jealousy: Jealous, Object, Accomplice, Perpetrator
- Erroneous Judgment: Mistaken One, Victim, Cause, Guilty
- Remorse: Culprit, Victim or Sin, Interrogator
- Recovery of Lost One: Seeker, One Found
- Murder of Loved One: Slain Kinsman, Spectator, Executioner.
That’s a lot to digest. I ran across a funny guy, Cecil Adams, who writes a syndicated weekly column called the Straight Dope. These plot scenarios are honed efficiently to 3-2-1 (Check out the literary plot. LOL).
Three. From The Basic Patterns of Plot by William Foster-Harris (1959). Not one to be distracted by unnecessary detail, F-H divines three basic plots: (1) happy ending, (2) unhappy ending, and (3) the “literary” plot, “in which the whole plot is done backwards [and] the story winds up in futility and unhappiness.” Examples of literary plots are drawn from Joyce, Pirandello, and other highfalutin’ types for whom F-H obviously has no use.
Two. Tobias concedes that his 20 plots boil down to 2, “plots of the body” and “plots of the mind.” Plots of the body are your action flicks, full of sound and fury, not necessarily signifying anything. Plots of the mind are more cerebral and often involve “searching for some kind of meaning,” which sounds dangerously like the literary plot disdained by Foster-Harris.
One. One school of thought holds that all stories can be summed up as Exposition/Rising Action/Climax/Falling Action/Denouement or to simplify it even further, Stuff Happens, although even at this level of generality we seem to have left out Proust.
My take-away from my research is:
- Recognize that writing has been around long enough to cover about every scenario, so don’t sweat it.
- Write your most creative vision of your story; it’s all you can do.
- These lists might come in handy when I’m looking for my next plot!