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For Authors: January 12, 2022 Issue [#11162]

 This week: One, er, Seven Plots to Rule Them All
  Edited by: Max Griffin 🏳️‍🌈
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Table of Contents

1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions

About This Newsletter

We all have reasons to come to a place like Writing.Com. For me, it's always been you, the members. My life is richer for reading your stories. My writing is better for receiving your wisdom. Writing this column can't repay the debt I owe, but it's my way saying "Thank you," by sharing some of what I've learned. I hope you enjoy what I've got to offer.

Word from our sponsor

Letter from the editor

Stephen J. Cannel wrote that, “Every great movie, book or play that has stood the test of time has a solid Three-Act structure.” He also said, “Most writers plot with their heads and write with their hearts.” Hitchcock reminds us that the readers care about the characters, while the plot is there to give the characters something to care about.

While plot is an important component of storytelling, it’s just one part. There is a tension between the deliberate planning involved in contriving a plot and the spontaneity of writing the characters. Writing involves breathing life into the characters and their fictional world.

Good storytelling employs a whole array of tools beyond plot, things like point-of-view, psychology, dialogue, action, setting, emotions, and mood. Writing is more than words in a row. Writing turns mere words into living, breathing people, with highs and lows, desires and fears, loves and hates. Writing reveals with harmony and dissonance, lyricism and cacophony, rhythm and syncopation.

Plot is not story. Story is that creation that the words on the page invoke and inspire. Story resides in the head and heart of the reader and is a collaboration between the author and the reader. The author’s goal is to engage the reader in the story—in that holistic enigma that resides in the netherworld between dream and reality.

That’s not to say plot is irrelevant. It’s fundamental, especially for longer works, because it provides structure. But if you get stuck in a novel, one thing to consider is whether you’re head is following a plot that doesn’t make sense for your characters. Chances are, you’re trying to write with your head instead of your heart. In any case, it’s time to examine the connection between characters and plot to see if your block is from a fundamental disconnect between the fictional world of your characters and the plot you’re trying to wedge them into.

Which brings us to The Seven Basic Plots, a supposedly comprehensive analysis by Christopher Booker of the seven basic plots in all fiction. “Supposedly” because the book itself dismisses as "flawed" masterworks for the sin of falling outside his proposed taxonomy. If the outliers were themselves marginal works, it would be less distressing, but they include works like Joyce’s Ulysses, D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, and Kafka’s The Trial. Presented with a taxonomy that praises Crocodile Dundee but rejects Rigoletto, my inclination is to keep searching.

However, the utility of Booker’s list is less in assessing the artistic merit of a work than in giving authors another set of potential frameworks for their stories. In an earlier newsletter, I wrote about the three act play as “one plot to rule them all.” That’s probably true, since the three act play is flexible and not proscriptive, unlike Booker’s grouping. Indeed, all of Booker’s categories are versions of the three act play, and more than a couple are also versions of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, made famous by Star Wars.

Booker’s list claims to be Jungian in nature in that its underlying theory contends that artistic conflict/resolution always involves a male protagonist reintegrating his “feminine” side. In itself, this is at best an incomplete understanding of Jung and, at its worst, is overtly sexist, as is revealed in other comments by Booker. But this is beside the point regarding the general plot types, which can be useful if your story happens to fit the structure. You don’t have to buy into his questionable philosophical basis to find utility in his list.

Here are the plot types with a couple of examples for each.

Overcoming the Monster. Think Dracula or any James Bond book.

Rags to Riches. Cinderella, The Jerk.

The Quest. Watership Down, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Voyage and Return. The Time Machine, Finding Nemo.

Comedy. The Big Lebowski, The Taming of the Shrew.

Tragedy. Bonnie and Clyde, The Great Gatsby.

Rebirth. A Christmas Carol, Groundhog Day.

When you’re writing, it’s almost inevitable you’ll get stuck at some point. Cannel also reminds it’s okay to write junk, and points out that everyone from Shakespeare to Hemingway has written junk. (Some days it feels like that’s all I write, but that’s another story.) The point is to have enough self-awareness to edit and revise, and to be true to your story, not forgetting that plot is just part of the story.

Readers come to us for our characters. Our characters arise from our hearts, not our heads. If you’re stuck, follow your heart and you’ll most likely find the answer.


Terminator2 Good, The Odyssey Bad  , review of Seven Plots in the Guardian.

The Seven Basic Plots  , online copy of Seven Plots

Screenwriting Tips from Stephen J. Cannel  

Editor's Picks

"Proposal in Chocolate"   by Graywriter down south
"Man and Machine"   by Matt
"Oliver"   by D. Reed Whittaker
"A Letter to A Veteran"   by Starling
"The Dialogue 500"   by W.D.Wilcox
"The Prompt Me Contest"   by Cubby is on the road again!
"Other Worlds Contest"   by A E Willcox
"Cross Timbers Contest"   by Max Griffin 🏳️‍🌈
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Word from Writing.Com

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Ask & Answer

Booker loathes Amadeus in part because he thinks it's about Mozart instead of Solieri. In any case, he dismisses it as "flawed," the same thing he says about Bloom's walk through Dublin in Ulysses. Because these depart from his rather narrow model, he says they are indicative of "what's wrong with modernity."

What do you think? Do you have a favorite movie or book that defies Booker's constrained vision? He could have commented on Spartacus, for example, but didn't. How about, say, The Boys in the Band, or Thelma and Louise? Do you think tjhey fit, or would Booker have found them flawed, too?
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