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Different Types Of Plot In Fiction, by Kate Forsyth

I’m sure you’ve all heard people say that there are only so many possible plots in the world. Some say there’s only three. Some say there’s only seven. For my own amusement and edification, I’ve collected them. Now I share them with you:

Only One Plot:

It is said that there is really only one plot – the resolution of a problem.

This rests on the basic plot structure described in the following, canonical sequence of events: Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action - Denouement

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Two Plots:

The novelist John Gardner used to say “There are only two stories: A man goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town.”

Three Plots:  

In The Basic Patterns of Plot, William Foster-Harris, a professor at the University of Oklahoma contends that there are three basic patterns of plot:

  1. Type A: happy ending
  1. Type B: unhappy ending
  1. Type C: ambiguous or inconclusive ending

Seven Plots:

In his book, The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker outlined a theory that there are seven key plots, which may be used in combination with others. This book is one of my own personal favourites, and I recommend it highly. In short, they are:

1) Overcoming the Monster – tale of conflict typically recounts the hero’s ordeals, an escape from death, and ends with a community or the world itself saved from evil.

2) Rags to Riches – Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, David Copperfield, and other stories that tell of humble, downtrodden characters who manage to overcome all obstacles to rise in the world.

3) The Quest – a hero travels on a quest to save his world and secure some kind of priceless treasure.

4) Voyage and Return – The protagonist leaves normal experience to enter an alien world, returning after what often amounts to a thrilling escape. The Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe, and Alice in Wonderland are examples of this plot.

5) Comedy – confusion reigns until at last the hero and heroine are united in love.

6) Tragedy - the anti-hero spirals down deeper into darkness and despair, with all ending grimly

7) Rebirth - any story that pivots on the symbolic or actual death and rebirth of a character. Examples include Snow White, and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov.

20 Plots:

The following come from 20 Master Plots by Ronald B Tobias:

  1. Quest
  1. Adventure
  1. Pursuit
  1. Rescue
  1. Escape
  1. Revenge
  1. The Riddle
  1. Rivalry
  1. Underdog
  1. Temptation
  1. Metamorphosis
  1. Transformation
  1. Maturation
  1. Love
  1. Forbidden Love
  1. Sacrifice
  1. Discovery
  1. Wretched Excess
  1. Ascension
  1. Descension.

36 Plots:  

Finally, we have Georges Polti who wrote a book called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (translated by Lucille Ray). Although I find the following of interest, I think it’s a little too complicated and hard to remember.

Supplication – Persecutor, Suppliant, a Power in Authority

Deliverance – Unfortunates, Threatener, Rescuer

Revenge – Avenger, Criminal

Vengeance by Family upon Family – Avenging Kinsman, Guilty Kinsman, Relative

Pursuit – Fugitive from Punishment, Pursuer

Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune – Unfortunates, Master or Unlucky Person

Disaster – Vanquished Power, Victorious Power or Messenger

Revolt – Tyrant, Conspirator(s)

Daring Enterprise – Bold Leader, Goal, Adversary

Abduction – Abductor, Abducted, Guardian

Enigma – Interrogator, Seeker, Problem

Obtaining – Two or more Opposing Parties, Object, maybe an Arbitrator

Familial Hatred – Two Family Members who hate each other

Familial Rivalry – Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kinsman, Object

Murderous Adultery – Two Adulterers, the Betrayed

Madness – Madman, Victim

Fatal Imprudence – Imprudent person, Victim or lost object

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Lover, Beloved, Revealer

Kinsman Kills Unrecognised Kinsman – Killer, Unrecognised Victim, Revealer

Self Sacrifice for an Ideal – Hero, Ideal, Person or Thing Sacrificed

Self Sacrifice for Kindred – Hero, Kinsman, Person or Thing Sacrificed

All Sacrificed for Passion – Lover, Object of Passion, Person or Thing Sacrificed

Sacrifice of Loved Ones – Hero, Beloved Victim, Need for Sacrifice

Rivalry Between Superior and Inferior – Superior, Inferior, Object

Adultery – Deceived Spouse, Two Adulterers

Crimes of Love – Lover, Beloved, theme of Dissolution

Discovery of Dishonour of a Loved One – Discoverer, Guilty One

Obstacles to Love – Two Lovers, Obstacle

An Enemy Loved – Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater

Ambition – An Ambitious Person, Coveted Thing, Adversary

Conflict with a God – Mortal, Immortal

Mistaken Jealousy – Jealous One, Object of Jealousy, Supposed Accomplice, Author of Mistake

Faulty Judgement – Mistaken One, Victim of Mistake, Author of Mistake, Guilty Person

Remorse – Culprit, Victim, Interrogator

Recovery of a Lost One – Seeker, One Found

Loss of Loved Ones – Kinsman Slain, Kinsman Witness, Executioner

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

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Plotting A Novel, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

When people first begin a story, they usually get inspired by one of two things: character or plot.  There’s no one right way.  Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks.

I often get email from aspiring novelists seeking advice when they’ve hit a roadblock in their works-in-progress.  They tell me that they were initially so excited about their stories but then, when they got to a certain point, they lost steam.  When I ask those same people what it is their character wants, what keeps that character from getting it, and what the character needs to learn in order to get it, these writers often don’t have the answers.

Perhaps a little plotting is in order.  I’ll discuss more about character in the next post.

Plotting 101:

Come up with an idea.  You want to figure out the driving force of your story.  For example, perhaps you want to write about a girl who drops out of high school to pursue her dream of becoming a Hollywood actress.  Or maybe you prefer writing about a boy who gets involved in a gang and ends up stealing from his own parents.

Choose the basics of your character. This is stuff like gender, age, situation in life, or whatever helps you picture them enough to get your plot going.  In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey is a 16-year-old practicing Wiccan at boarding school.

Introduce your character to an initial action/problem.  This is the first event/ problem in the story that pushes the reader forward.  For example, maybe      your 15-year-old bully of a character learns that her parents are getting      divorced and she’ll have to move and start over at a new school. In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey starts having nightmares that her roommate is going to be killed within four days’ time.

Decide what it is your character wants.  This drive will influence most if not all of your character’s decisions and actions.  It’s your character’s motivation.  In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey wants to save her roommate before it’s too      late.  She also wants to forgive herself for ignoring nightmares that she had three years ago, because a little girl died as a result.

Decide what keeps your character from getting what s/he wants.  There are usually one or more obstacles that keep(s) your character from getting what s/he wants.  In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey’s obstacles are many: she fears she won’t be able to stop the killer (self doubt); she has botched spells; she relies too heavily on spells and not enough on herself (lack of confidence); she failed to save someone in the past and fears it will happen again.

Have your character learn a lesson.  This lesson is usually a real turning point for your character.  Having learned this lesson, they can better achieve what they want.  In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey learns that she is more powerful than her spells, that her spells do indeed aid her, but it’s the will and power inside her that’s most important.

Climax. this is usually the highest point of tension in the story, the place where most of your action or drama will take place.  This may be the point where your character faces his or her biggest obstacle.  In Blue is for Nightmares, Stacey figures out who the killer is and confronts him.

Resolution. this is the tying up of loose ends.  It’s also where subplots get tied up (note: a subplot is any minor plot in the novel.  For example, even though Stacey is trying to save her roommate, she’s also battling the crush she has on her best friend’s boyfriend.)  Having stopped the killer and saved her roommate, Stacey now goes away with a healthier sense of self.  We also learn whether or not she gets the boy.

If all else fails, think of plot in terms of the stuck up a tree approach.  In other words, put a someone up in a tree then throw rocks at them to get them down.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

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On The Process Of Plotting And Writing A Novel, by Sam Hawksmoor

Patrick Ness told me that he always begins by writing the last line first.  I could never do that.  I like the voyage of discovery in the writing process too much to prescribe an ending.  I like an element of surprise.  After all, I am putting my characters through the mill and during this they will develop and change and sometimes surprise you with their reactions to events.

Nevertheless if you want to interest an editor or agent you need a plot.  I have recently submitted a detailed six-page plot outline to my publisher for a sequel. However, it’s a plot outline with no flesh on the bones: a character may do something horrid to someone and they will react but, until I write it, I don’t necessarily know quite how the character will react.  An editor doesn’t need to know that. They need to know if it will be exciting and different (but not too different). They will want to know where there will be action or emotion and how the story will be resolved.  You will have to work al that out before you pitch, even if you start your pitch with a simple  ‘Boy meets girl, girl prefers another boy… who claims to be a alien.’ (No, I’m not actually writing this.)

The idea is that you are dealing with consequences.  The boy will seek to disprove the other boy is an alien and the more he does that the more the girl will like the alien…

A good editor will be one step ahead of you and ask detailed questions: Where is the alien from?  What are his characteristics?  What makes him so special?  Why does the girl prefer him? Don’t pitch until you are ready with the answers.  The last thing you need is to have the editor interested at the beginning and then feel deflated because you don’t know how it all will turn out.

I love character interplay and the mechanics of a relationship.  It’s also imperative to let characters fail. Take risks. A reader might be disappointed but then will be rewarded when your character picks themselves up and tries again.

Plots are pathways to a resolution but the strength of a good plot comes from the characters: readers like the characters so much they want them to succeed, and care less about where the characters are going than being able to go with them.

Sometimes when writing you can trap yourself in a corner.  Do you go back and rewrite or do you write on?  Raymond Chandler always knew what to do: have someone kick down the door with a gun in their hand.  Don’t worry if things get difficult.  Rescue is at hand, even if it’s a ‘Sorry, wrong door.’  I think creating difficulties for yourself is good for the writing. The reader is doubly rewarded when you finally figure it out.

What point in your story should you begin your novel?

The most obvious answer is ‘the beginning’ but sometimes it’s good to start half way in:
Your character is trapped in a cave, fire is blocking the entrance and something is approaching that means to kill him.  He wishes he hadn’t left home at all because any moment now he is going to have to fight to the death, and death is the easy way out.  Now you can go back to the beginning.  Last Tuesday.  It’s raining and your character gets a text that simply says, ‘Help me. If you love me at all, you will come’.

Readers will have the patience to go along until your character is standing in that burning cave facing the prospect of death.  Let’s hope your character knows how to survive.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

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