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20 master plots pdf download

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The real value of this legend is that it evolved with constant retelling until it became plot perfect, the same process that per- fected the fable, the fairy tale, the riddle, the rhyme and the prov- erb. The story went through thousands of oral rewrites until it could evolve no further. The characters and details that describe place and time take a back seat. She takes her dog to the vet. The second movement starts when the woman returns home and the phone is ringing. An element of danger is introduced when the vet, very agitated, tells her to get out of the house.

We know intuitively that the danger is connected to the mystery of the choking Doberman. But how? We try to guess. The woman flees her house and the unknown danger. The third movement begins with the arrival of the police, who confirm the magnitude of the danger, and the arrival of the vet, who explains the mystery. The police prove the theory of the dismembered burglar when they capture him. Now, no one sat around concocting this tale.

It has the three movements beginning, middle and end , a protagonist the woman , an antagonist the burglar , and plenty of tension and conflict. It's only a matter of degree. Before we begin exploring the nature of plot, I want to make the point that plot isn't an accessory that conveniently organizes your material according to some ritualistic magic. You don't just plug in a plot like a household appliance and expect it to do its job. Plot is organic. It takes hold of the writer and the work from the beginning.

Remove the plot from "The Choking Doberman," and there's nothing meaningful left. As readers we're plot-directed. Some writers have tried to write plotless novels with some lim- ited success , but we're so in love with a good plot that after a few short spasms of rebellion angry writer: "Why must plot be the most important element?

I can't say plot is the center of the writer's uni- verse, but it is one of two strong forces�character being the other�that affects everything else in turn. Without structure you have nothing. We've been taught to fear plot, because it looms so large over us and so much seems to hinge on it. We've been told a thousand times there are only so many plots and they've all been used and there isn't a story left in the world that hasn't already been told.

It's a miracle that any writer escapes being intimidated by the past. No doubt you've also heard plot described in architectural or mechanical terms.

Plot is the skeleton, the scaffold, the super- structure, the chassis, the frame and a dozen other terms. Since we've seen so many buildings under construction, and since we've seen so many biological models of humans and animals over the years, the metaphors are easy to identify with. It seems to make sense, after all. A story should have a plan that helps the writer make the best choices in the process of creating fiction, right? Let's take the metaphor of the skeleton, since it's one of the more common ones writing instructors use.

Plot is a skeleton that holds together your story. All your details hang on the bones of the plot. You can even debone a plot by reducing it to a descrip- tion of the story. We read these summaries all the time in reviews and critical analyses of fiction. Screenwriters must be able to pitch their plot in about two minutes if they have any hope of selling it. It's the simplistic answer to the simplistic question, "What's your story about?

The visual image of the skeleton is so graphic that we surrender to it. Yes, take out the skeleton and everything falls apart. It seems to make great sense. The problem with the skeleton metaphor for plot and all the other architectural and mechanical models is that it misrepre- sents what plot is and how it works.

Plot isn't a wire hanger that you hang the clothes of a story on. Plot is diffusive; it permeates all the atoms of fiction. It can't be deboned. It isn't a series of I- beams that keeps everything from collapsing. It is a force that saturates every page, paragraph and word. It correlates images, events and people. Plot is a process, not an object. We tend to talk about plots as if they were objects. All of our plot metaphors describe plot as if it were some tangible thing that came in a box.

We categorize plots like items in a story inventory. We talk about plot as if it were a dead thing, something static. This may be the hardest obstacle for you to overcome: thinking of plot as a force, a process, rather than as an object. Once you realize that plot reaches down to the atomic level in your writing, and that every choice you make ultimately affects plot, you will realize its dynamic quality.

Plot is dynamic, not static. Let's say you'd written "The Choking Doberman. You answer, "It's about a dog. Too specific. Anyway, the dog is the subject matter and then only half of it.

So you try something else. Too vague. You try another tack. Your patience is wearing thin. All right, what is the plot? The plot is as old as literature itself. The point of a riddle is to solve a puzzle. It comes from the same tradition as Oedipus, who must solve the riddle presented to him by the Sphinx, and the same tradition of Hercules, who had the unenviable task of having to solve twelve tasks, the fa- mous labors, each of which was a riddle to be solved.

Fairy tales are chock full of riddles to be solved�children delight in them. So do adults. The riddle is the basis of the mystery, which to this day is arguably the most popular form of literature in the world. And that fits "The Choking Doberman. The first clue appears in the first movement: The dog is choking on something. The second clue comes in the second movement, when the vet tells the woman to get out of her house.

To solve the riddle who? We must try to establish a link between the two cause and effect and provide the missing piece before the end of the story, when the vet and the police explain everything to us. A riddle is a game played between audience and writer. The writer gives clues preferably clues that make the riddle challenging and therefore fun , and the audience makes a go of it before time is up in the third movement, when all the explanations come.

Take away plot, and all that's left is a jumble of details that add up to nothing. So before we talk about all the different master plots and how to build them, you should feel comfortable with the concept that plot is a force. It is a force that attracts all the atoms of language words, sentences, paragraphs and organizes them according to a certain sense character, action, location.

It is the cumulative effect of plot and character that creates the whole. So the point of this book isn't so much to give you a rundown of twenty master plots, but to show you how to develop plot in fiction. The book also will show you how to apply whatever plot you choose to your subject matter so you develop plot evenly and effectively.

You hesitate. The Chinese proverb that says the longest journey begins with the first step is a little help, but what the proverb doesn't tell you is which road to take. The fear always is that you may strike out in the wrong direction, only to have to come back and start all over again. What can you do to protect yourself from going off in the wrong direction? The answer is a combination of good news and bad news. First the bad news. The bad news is that there are no guarantees. Nothing you can do will guarantee that what you do is right.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, but it is a reality. Now for the good news. The longest journey begins with the first step, but it helps to know where your journey will take you. This doesn't mean you will know every step of the way, because writing is always full of surprises�twists and turns that the author doesn't expect.

That's part of the fun of writing. But most writers I know have a destina- tion in mind. They know where they want to head even if they can't tell you exactly how they intend to get there. I'm not talking about knowing the ending of the story. That's a different issue.

What I'm talking about is understanding the nature of the materials you'll deal with �specifically plot. If you strike out without any idea of destination, you'll wander aimlessly. But if you understand something about the kind of plot you're trying to write, you'll have supplied yourself with a compass that will know when you're wandering and warn you to get back on track. Even when you get to the end of the work, this compass will guide you through the rewriting, that stage of work that really makes what you've written.

By having a clear understanding of what your plot is and how the force works in your fiction, you'll have a reliable compass to guide you through the work.

What explorer ever struck out without a direction in mind? The chances of something specifically happening at a certain time and place are astronomical, and yet every second of every day is filled with these unlikely events. It rolls in a spiral, then twirls to a standstill. What are the odds that could happen exactly the same way again? Millions, maybe trillions, to one. And yet it happened as naturally as if there were no odds against it. Every event in our lives happens as if there were no odds against it.

The scientist argued that randomness does not exist. We have operational definitions, he asserted, definitions that work for a certain series of circumstances and conditions, but we don't have an absolute definition that works in all cases.

The same is true about plot. We have operational definitions of plot, but no grand, irrefutable definition that is absolute.

We have only definitions that work for a certain series of circumstances and conditions. Your work is that series of circumstances and conditions, and your work ultimately will provide the proper defi- nition of plot. It sounds like I'm saying, "Hey, you figure it out, I can't do it for you. What I am saying is that each plot is different, but each has its roots in pattern, and this book can help you with those patterns. You will choose a pattern of plot and adapt it to your own specific plot, which is unique for your story.

There's the work pattern: If you sit down every day for so many hours and write, you will produce a lot more than if you write when the fancy strikes you. We rely on patterns as structures. The same is true inside your own work. By building patterns, you construct a scaffolding for your work. You can build two major patterns in fiction, both of which depend on each other: the pat- tern of plot and the pattern of character.

Once you establish a pattern of plot, you have a dynamic force that will guide you through the action; and once you establish a pattern of character who acts in the pattern of plot , you have a dynamic force of behavior that will guide you through your character's intent and motivation.

Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even millions. Plots have endless possibilities, so there must be endless plots. It is also consistent with what I said about adapting patterns to specific stories. Answer B Sixty-nine was Rudyard Kipling's idea.

He felt that only sixty-nine of the countless variations of Answer A were plots. He was talking about patterns. Answer C Thirty-six was the invention of Carlo Gozzi, who catalogued them in a book about plot. He too, was counting pat- terns. Today when we read that book, about half of the plots are no longer used because they seem hopelessly out of date , so a revised version of Gozzi might say there are only eighteen plots.

Answer D Two! This approach goes one step further than the others in that it catego- rizes the patterns into two groups. More on that later.

All of these answers are right to some degree. Be suspicious of any magic number of plots, because I doubt anyone can com- pletely catalogue the range of human feeling and action in tidy little packages numbered from one to whatever. These people really say the same thing, but in different ways. Another way to put it might be to say that you can package plot any number of ways, and the way you package it decides what number you'll end up with.

There is no magic number, one or one million. This book deals with twenty, but these aren't the only ones in the world. Plot is a slip- pery thing, and no one can hold onto it for long. In its most basic sense, a plot is a blueprint of human behavior. Thousands of years of human behavior has developed patterns of action and feeling. These patterns are so basic to being human that they haven't changed in the last five thousand years and probably won't change in the next five thousand.

On a cosmic scale,fivethousand years is a drop in the bucket, but for us mere mortals who eke out lifetimes of about eighty years,fivethousand years is a very long time. In the history of human events it's a long time, too.

Some of these patterns of behavior go back even further, to the beginning of humanity and before. We call these behaviors "instincts": the maternal instinct, the instinct to survive, the instinct to defend yourself, and so on.

They are primal behaviors, and they are a large part of our own behavior. Remember the story about the mother whose child was trapped beneath an automobile? She was so desperate to save her child she lifted the car with superhuman strength and freed it. We want to protect the ones we love, and sometimes we must go to extremes to do it. This is a basic pattern of behavior that is common to all peoples around the globe, city and jungle alike, at all times in history.

You can probably think of a dozen other such patterns of behav- ior off the top of your head. But behavior doesn't make plot; it's just the first step toward plot. First, you must understand the difference between a story and a plot.

In the days when people lived in makeshift homes that they abandoned daily in search of game, or seasonally as they moved their herds of sheep or yaks, they sat around the fire at night and told stories. Stories about the prowess of the hunter, stories about the swiftness of the gazelle or the slyness of the coyote or the brute strength of the walrus. Story was a narration of events in the sequence that they happened. Plot is story that has a pattern of action and reaction. Among the Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the story of the Whale Husband was once popular: A fisherman caught a strange fish, which he gave to his wife to clean.

When she finished her task, the wife washed her hands in the sea. Suddenly a Killer Whale rose out of the water and pulled the woman in. The Killer Whale took the fisherman's wife to his home at the bottom of the sea, where she worked as a slave in his house. With the help of his friend, Shark, the fisherman followed the Killer Whale to his house at the bottom of the sea. Using trickery, Shark snuffed the light in the Killer Whale's house and rescued the wife for the fisherman.

In "The Whale Husband," we have the who and the what, but not the why. We want the events to connect some- how. We suspect that the Killer Whale took the woman because of the strange fish, but we never find out if that's the case. We can guess that maybe the strange fish was the Killer Whale's wife, so the Killer Whale took revenge.

We want the second movement the Killer Whale stealing the fisherman's wife to happen because of the first movement the fisherman steals the Killer Whale's wife. But there are no clues, no connections, no apparent causal relationships. Was it for revenge?

Did Shark have something against the Killer Whale? Where did Shark come from? Why does she help? No answers, no clues. In all fairness, the story probably has many hidden connotations that are available to the original tellers and listeners, but as it is here it seems to fail our expectations of what a story should be. Those expectations are what plot is about.

Forster spent a lot of time thinking about writing. He tried to explain the difference between story and plot in his book Aspects of the Novel. A simple narration. This is story. But if you connect the first movement the death of the king with the second movement the death of the queen and make one action the result of the other, we would have a plot.

The listener wants to know what comes next. Plot is more than just a chronicle of events. The listener asks a different question: "Why does this happen?

This happened and then this happened and then Plot is a chain of cause-and-effect relationships that constantly create a pattern of unified action and behavior. Plot involves the reader in the game of "Why? Plot requires the ability to remember what has already hap- pened, to figure out the relationships between events and people, and to try to project the outcome. Maugham said he liked the story but could never figure out how to use it in his own work: Two young Englishmen were working on an isolated tea plantation in India.

One of the men�we'll call him Clive � got a handful of letters in every post, but the other man � we'll call him Geoffrey�never got any mail.

One day Geoffrey offered five pounds to his friend for one of his letters. In those days that was lot of money. At dinner that night, Clive casually asked his friend what was in the letter he'd bought.

Geoffrey refused to tell him. The two men argued, but Geoffrey wouldn't back down. A week later, Clive offered to buy the letter back for twice the amount. Maugham's observation about what he saw as the deficiency of this story is interesting: "I suppose that if I belonged to the modern school of story writers, I should write it just as it is and leave it.

It goes against the grain with me. I want a story to have form, and I don't see how you can give it that unless you can bring it to a conclusion that leaves no legitimate room for questioning. Nobody knows. You invent an ending: Clive sneaks into Geoffrey's room to steal the letter back, but Geoffrey walks in and surprises Clive going through his things.

The men fight, and Clive accidentally kills Geoffrey. He later finds the letter in Geoffrey's effects and reads i t. What does it say? Let's try a couple of different endings. Henry and Guy de Maupassant did in their stories.

So you decide the letter is from Give's haberdasher in London, informing him that his new suits have been finished and are on the way The letter turns out to be trivial, hardly worth Geoffrey's death or Clive's torture. Clive became a victim of his own imagination and Geoffrey a victim to his own stubbornness. But this ending doesn't satisfy us.

Why not? We expect more from the letter than a bit of trivial news; we expect the letter to go deeper into the personal lives of the two men. We expect the letter to contain some kind of secret.

Ending Two The letter is from Geoffrey's girlfriend in London saying that she's making a surprise visit to the plantation, and since Clive was such a good friend, could he please help arrange a surprise reception? This ending is more ironic because the girlfriend will indeed get a surprise reception, but not the one she anticipates. We also can't help wonder how Clive will explain her boyfriend's death. This ending also explains why Geoffrey would choose that par- ticular letter since he would've seen his girlfriend's name and return address on the envelope.

And it would explain why Geof- frey would refuse to show the letter to Clive. The letter contains a secret. Perhaps this version of an ending better fits Maugham's "con- clusion that leaves no legitimate room for questioning. All it needs is a finish to make the story whole. Life is often a series of tenuously connected events, coincidences and chance.

We prefer order to disorder infiction. We prefer logic to chaos. Most of all, we prefer unity of purpose, which creates a whole. Wouldn't life be great if it contained nothing extraneous or coinci- dental, if everything that happened to us related to a main pur- pose? Or would it? I have grave doubts. It is a fragment begging a conclusion. Aristotle, the grandpappy of dramatic theory, proposed some basic common denominators for drama that haven't changed all that much in nearly three thousand years.

His concept of unified action lies at the heart of plot. Cause and effect. This happens because that happened, and so on. What I'm about to repeat via Aristotle may sound so basic to you that it verges on the absurd, but bear with me. It's scary how many people have never grasped this fundamental principle: A unified action creates a whole made up of a beginning, middle and an end. We talked about the three movements in each of the three stories so far. The first movement constitutes the beginning, the second constitutes the middle, and the third, of course, consti- tutes the end.

In the Beginning The beginning, commonly called the setup, is the initial action of the situation, presented to us as a problem that must be solved. In "The Choking Doberman" it is when the woman comes home and finds her dog choking. In "The Whale Husband" it is when the husband loses his wife to the Killer Whale and, we assume, wants her back. In "Two English Gentlemen" the beginning sets up the situa- tion of two men, one of whom gets mail, while the other doesn't.

The beginning defines your characters and the wants of your major character or characters. Aristotle says a character wants either happiness or misery. When you ask yourself "What does my character want? In the stories we've looked at, the woman in "The Choking Doberman" wants to save her dog; the fisherman in "The Whale Husband" wants his wife back; and Geoffrey in "Two English Gentlemen" wants mail. Wanting something leads to motivation�why a character does what he does.

In the Middle Once you've established the intent of your character s , the story goes into the second phase, which Aristotle called the rising action. The character pursues her goal. The woman takes her dog to the vet; the fisherman, with mysterious help from Shark, goes to the Killer Whale's house; and Geoffrey offers to buy a letter from Clive.

These actions come directly from intent. The action clearly grows out of what happened in the begin- ning. Cause, now effect. But the protagonist runs into problems that keep her from suc- cessfully completing intention. Aristotle called these barriers re- versals. Reversals cause tension and conflict because they alter the path the protagonist must take to get to her intended goal. In "The Choking Doberman" the reversal comes as the telephone call from the vet. In "Two English Gentlemen" the reversal comes when Clive offers to buy back the letter and Geoffrey re- fuses.

The fisherman and the Shark simply complete their intention without resistances. Noth- ing stops them. No conflict, no tension. After the reversal, Aristotle suggested something he called rec- ognition, which is the point in the story where the relationships between major characters change as a result of the reversal.

In "The Choking Doberman" recognition comes when the woman flees her house; in "Two English Gentlemen" it comes when the men fight over the letter. A reversal is an event, but recognition is the irreversible emo- tional change within the characters brought about by that event. Note that both reversal and recognition come from the story being told, not from out of the blue. In "The Whale Husband," help, in the form of Shark, comes from nowhere.

You'd watch charac- ters suffer through their dilemmas, then suddenly some angel or god would float out of a hole in the ceiling attached to a rope that the audience could see even from the back row , wave his magic wand, and either solve everyone's problems or put them to death. We no longer have patience for this kind of contrived ending.

Anything too convenient or too coincidental sometimes called idiot plot turns us off. Mark Twain said it best: "The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibility and let miracles alone. In screenplays, Hollywood plot structure tends to be formulaic. The protagonist usually goes through two major reversals some- times called plot points. Only "Two English Gentlemen" has a second reversal, one that builds on the heels of the first: when Clive kills Geoffrey.

In the End The final stage is the end, which contains the climax, the falling action and the denouement. The ending is the logical outcome of all the events in the first two phases. Everything that has hap- pened to this point inevitably leads to a final resolution in which all is exposed and clarified. We learn about the burglar with the missing fingers; we discover the contents of the letter. Every- thing�who, what and where �is explained, and everything makes sense.

It holds everything. Figure out the shape of your story, add all the appropriate details, and somehow it will all set like concrete or Jello. In another sense, plot is a force of cohesion, as I discussed in the first chapter. Whatever metaphor you choose to represent plot�whether it be a form, a road map or the force�its impor- tance is inescapable. Without it, expect to drift aimlessly, never sure where you are or where you're headed. Three thousand years of generating plots has given us some common denominators that hold up as a general rule.

And like all general rules, they frequently are broken. Pablo Picasso was on target, however, when he said we must first learn the rules to know how to break them. So, it is within this spirit I present these common denominators.

There is only a very short story and probably a very boring one. Remember the basic plot scenario "Boy Meets Girl"? Without tension or conflict, if you prefer , the story would go something like this: Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl to marry him. Girl says yes. What's the point? So the main character's intention or goal is to marry the girl.

She says yes. So what? So now add tension. Boy meets girl. Girl says no. The tension comes from her denial. We get an explanation of her refusal. What he does next constitutes effect to the cause his rejection. Whenever intention is denied, the effect is tension. This opposition can come in many forms. The antagonist may be external in the form of a separate person, place or thing, such as an enemy, a rival or a competitor.

Or it may be internal� within the character of the protagonist, who may be trying to over- come some doubt, fear or flaw such as alcoholism. In "Boy Meets Girl," her rejection of his marriage proposal sets up a reaction on his part. He can walk away from her which would be the end of the story or he can decide to do something to overcome her objection an effect to the previous cause.

The girl's refusal to walk down the aisle is a local tension, which means it is the result of a conflict of the moment. Local tension doesn't have much of an effect beyond the immediate circumstances that created the tension.

It would take some consummate skill to write an entire novel based on the girl's initial rejection of the marriage proposal although it might be enough for a short story. A novel or a screenplay is made up of local tensions, but it is also made up of tensions that are more fundamental to the plot itself. If the boy decides he really wants to marry the girl, and realizes he must overcome her objection, that may mean overcoming his alcohol- ism.

The tension of being an alcoholic wanting to drink as op- posed to not wanting to drink is long-lasting. We assume he drinks because of some inner conflict, and we want to know what it is and how he'll deal with it.

But a story requires constant tension. You must increase the tension as you build toward a climax. That means you can't rely on local tension alone; you need a larger conflict that can support the story.

Back to our story: The boy decides to give up drinking. But it's not that easy. If it were, the story wouldn't be very interesting.

Now we're get- ting down to fundamental questions of character. Who is this per- son? What causes him to drink? Will he overcome his depen- dency?

These are the questions the reader will ask and your job as writer is to address them in an interesting and creative way. Notice we've focused on the boy as the main character. His inten- tion is clear: Give up drinking and get the girl. The girl's refusal created local tension and set up the story. The important conflict lies within the boy and whether he can deal with his own demons.

We want to keep our readers engaged in the action�another way of saying that we don't want the story to get stale �so we have the main character encounter along the way a series of barri- ers, which deepen the opposition. Each conflict gains intensity. Readers feel themselves being thrust toward the cataclysm, the climax, when all hell will break loose and the story will get re- solved for better or for worse. Local tension can't do this by itself, because local tension doesn't build intensity.

All local ten- sion does is create a series of equal roadblocks along the way that, after a while, can get boring. The serious conflicts, the ones that are the foundation of plot, are the ones that deal with the charac- ters in fundamental ways.

The Lowest Common Plot Denominators 21 Our story won't have made much progress if we revise it just to include local tension: Boy meets girl. Girl refuses so long as he's an alcoholic. Boy goes to Alcoholics Anonymous and gets cured. Girl agrees to marry boy. Well, there's a germ of something here. We have a story, but we still don't have a plot. The main character has an intention and it is denied, and he must do something to fulfill his intention � but his task doesn't seem all that tough the way it's presented here.

He goes to A. Anyone who's gone through anything like A. But at least you can now see the structure of beginning, middle and end: Beginning: Boy meets girl and he asks her to marry him. Girl turns him down because he's an alcoholic. Middle: Boy goes to A. End: The boy and girl get married and live happily ever after. So what's the problem? How do you go about fleshing out this story so that you can deepen the opposition?

The conflict in the beginning is local: The girl turns down the boy. But where is the tension in the middle? Where is the tension in the end?

There is none. The boy simply solves the problem. The crisis doesn't deepen. To write a plot that will work here, you must develop the ten- sion not just locally but at the deeper level as you investigate the character of the hero in crisis. It's not enough to have motivating action that gets the story going; you must continually test the character through each phase of dramatic action.

It's a boy-meets-girl story with a twist. The story is simple enough: Michael Douglas's character has an extramarital one- night stand with a woman who is abnormally fixated on their rela- tionship, and although he does everything he can to distance him- self from this unbalanced woman, she reaches into his family with catastrophic effect.

Boy is already married local tension. Boy and girl go to bed together over a weekend while wife is out of town. When boy tries to go home, girl cuts her wrists. Act I I Complications What is interesting about this film in terms of its complications is that they represent a series of escalations.

The Glenn Close character begins to interfere with Michael Douglas's life in small ways, such as telephone calls and surprise visits. As Michael Douglas continues to push her away, her actions become increas- ingly more hostile and desperate. The Michael Douglas character realizes the threat to his marriage and begins to do what he can to cover up. But as the escalation increases and the woman's actions become more and more violent�climaxing in the gro- tesque killing of the family rabbit�he realizes the threat isn't just to his marriage, but to his family.

The color and shape of survival have changed dramatically. The deranged woman then kidnaps their child, and the wife, in a panic, has a bad car accident. Watch the film analytically and notice that every time something hap- pens, the stakes grow larger. The effect of action is to snowball, increasing tension and conflict from the mundane story of a man who's cheated on his wife to one who's battling a psychotic woman who's willing to kill to get her man.

Act I I I Resolution In the last act the psychotic woman invades their house and tries to kill the wife. They battle it out in a terrifying sequence that includes all the members in this character triangle: wife, husband, mistress.

What's interesting is that this film has three different endings, depending on which version you see. The standard end- ing shows the psychotic woman getting killed, but in the so-called "Director's Edit," which is available for rental, the ending is quite different.

In it, the mistress kills herself in such a way that it looks like the husband is guilty of murder. Reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, in which the wife does the same thing to her husband.

The husband is then arrested for murder. If we were to look at the structure in the third act, we would find a progression of events in each of the endings shown here: Step I: The death of the mistress.

Step II: The arrest of the husband for her "murder. The ending released in theaters, however, only includes the first step. That might have been the best deci- sion, or it might not. My only point here is to show how tension and conflict are carried through the entire story, regenerating in each act and constantly increasing the stakes.

Your main character should be a different person at the end of the book than at the beginning. If not, your character is static. Meaningful events change people in meaningful ways. In Fatal Attraction the change is minimal: We suppose Michael Douglas has learned his lesson and will never cheat on his wife again. The character is flat and static. The story could've been better if we could see the effects of the action as it changes his character.

Instead, we must rely on the roller-coaster effect of events to keep us interested. The producers of the movie were more interested in cheap thrills than in exploring how such events affect a family, for the short and the long term. Let's go back to the basic "Boy Meets Girl. There are none. We're supposed to believe that the boy's sim- ple motivation to marry the girl is enough for him to overcome a deep-seated emotional problem. Well, you say, don't you know that love can conquer all?

Of course it can, but there's no hint here that the girl does anything to help him through his crisis. That would be a good source of conflict.

But our story doesn't give us a clue. As a result of events in the story, the character should some- how change. The hero of "Boy Meets Girl" may become a better person provided he can overcome his obstacles , or he may find out that he's a slave to alcoholism and doesn't have the strength or motivation to overcome his affliction. With either ending, the character learns something about himself.

He is different at the end than he was at the beginning of the story. This is the true test of events in your story. Ask yourself not only what should happen next, but how it will affect your hero's character.

But a lot of writers either forget what it means or they don't really understand it. As we write, we get swept up in the world we've created. The characters speak. They go places and do things. Part of being a convincing writer has to do with our ability to convince ourselves that the characters we write about are real. As a result of our vicarious participation in this fictional world, we often let the char- acters "go their own way" and say and do what they please.

In a first draft I have no problem with giving characters their head. But unless you're a very disciplined writer, they'll end up going in every which direction. Once characters take on lives of their own, they become difficult to control.

They may not share your sense of plot. They may have their own agenda and leave you astounded by their impudence. They defy you. They taunt you. You intended for them to be at a board meeting in New York and suddenly they're at a pig farm in Green Sleeve, Mississippi. They go off on tangents and become involved in situations that have nothing to do with your plot. You're tickled that your characters have such energy and that they drag you along with them, but at the same time you're appalled that they seem bent on ignoring you.

Finally you realize you must stop everything and ask your- self, "Who's in charge here? In fact, it may be some of the better writing you've ever done. What should you do? The answer is simple, and too often painful. It's all right to let yourself go when you write, because you're using the best part of your creative self. But be suspicious of what comes out. Plot is your compass. You should have a general idea of the direction you're headed in, and if you write something that doesn't specifi- cally relate to the advancement of the plot, question it.

Ask your- self, "Does this scene or conversation, or description contribute in a concrete way to my plot? If the answer is no, chuck it. Fiction is a lot more economical than life. Whereas life allows in anything,fictionis selective. Every- thing in your writing should relate to your intent. The rest, no matter how brilliantly written, should be taken out.

This is often easier said than done, especially when some of your best writing fails to fulfill the intention of the plot. It's hard, very hard, to muster the courage to say, "This must go. Laurence Sterne, author of the brilliant novel Tristram Shandy, called digressions the "sunshine" of read- ing. Take them out of a book and "you might as well take the book along with them; �one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it " Feodor Dostoevsky claimed he couldn't control his writing.

First, you're not a nineteenth-century novelist. The shape of literature has changed in the last hundred years. Books are tighter and leaner. This reflects the age we live in. As readers, we don't want to take the time to wander off in all directions. We demand that the writer get to and stick with the point. Andre Gide pointed out that the first condition of art was that it contain nothing unessential; a tight book walks the straight and narrow.

Hemingway said write first and then take out all the good stuff and what's left is story. Chekhov had the same idea when he said that if you show a shotgun in the first act, it must go off in the third act.

Nothing in fiction exists incidentally. The world you create is much more structured and orderly than your own. So if you feel tempted to keep a passage that has a particu- larly well-written or moving scene but doesn't relate directly to the plot, ask yourself, "Is the writing so strong that the reader won't mind the side trip? The novel is expansive and can tolerate many such excursions; the screenplay is intolerant and rarely allows any. The writer, once trained, is intuitively aware of the need to stay close to plot.

But no writer worth her salt doesn't occasionally succumb to the charm of her characters and head south.

If you accept the premise that good writing is cause and effect, we progress to the next stage, which says that good writing appears to be casual but in truth is causal. No writer wants his fiction to be so obvious as to flash a neon sign that says PLOT! You don't want your causes to be so obvious that the reader can't fall victim to the charms of the story. You want to write in such a way that what you write about seems just a natural part of the world you've created.

In the case of Chekhov's shotgun, we know the gun is important and will prove its impor- tance by the end of the story. We know the shotgun wouldn't be included if it didn't have some relevant purpose to the plot. But that doesn't mean the writer should ram the shotgun down our throat. The writer should be nonchalant, casual, about introducing the shotgun to the reader's view.

You would introduce it in such a way that the reader almost doesn't notice. But when the shotgun becomes important in a later act, the reader should remember seeing it in the first act. The title of the story cues us well. This is a story about a lottery. As we read the story we learn that a town holds an annual lottery and has been doing so since time immemorial. We focus on the mechanics of the lottery and the people involved. The lottery is the subject of the story, and we have no reason to be suspicious of it until the end of the story when we learn, to our surprise, that the winner of the lottery will be stoned to death by the other townspeople.

Jackson's feat as a writer was similar to sleight of hand. She made us look one way when we should have been looking the other. As we read, we're more concerned about the mechanics of the lottery than what that lottery actually represents.

We are caught off guard at the end and stunned when we learn the truth. He said the first thing the writer had to consider was the story. If you get away from story you will produce what Ford called a "longeur" which was, he said, "a patch over which the mind will progress heavily.

As long as it's good, right? Wrong, said Ford. If it doesn't push the story forward, it doesn't belong. Don't distract the reader with asides. What you are doing is diluting the dramatic effect. Focus, focus, focus. Of course you can appear to digress. What looks like an aside the casual vs.

Other delights always beckon us. So you should provide the reader with what appear to be, but aren't really, digressions. All pieces fit, all pieces are important. But as the writer, you are always building your story, advancing your plot, with the reader unawares.

Let me explain it in cinematic terms. We've placed the props on the set of the first act. The shotgun is on the back wall. De- pending on the director's shot, he can make the shotgun obvious, with a close-up of it, or he can camouflage the shotgun among the other objects in the room with a medium shot.

The close-up calls attention to the shotgun, and anyone who's ever seen at least one murder mystery knows exactly what's afoot. Each is discussed and analyzed, illustrating how a successful plot integrates allthe elements of a story.

Tobias then goes to the next level,showing you how to choose and develop plot in fiction. He shows you how to craft plot for any subject matter, so that you develop your workevenly and effectively.

As a result, your fiction will be more cohesive and convincing, making your story unforgettable for readerseverywhere. Extended embed settings. You have already flagged this document. Thank you, for helping us keep this platform clean. The editors will have a look at it as soon as possible. Self publishing. Share Embed Flag.

TAGS readers tobias shipping plots develop digest edition inches ounces rates. The best stories linger in the hearts and minds of readers for decades. Each is discussed and analyzed, illustrating how a successful plot integrates all the elements of a story. Tobias then goes to the next level, showing you how to choose and develop plot in fiction.

He shows you how to craft plot for any subject matter, so that you develop your work evenly and effectively. As a result, your fiction will be more cohesive and convincing, making your story unforgettable for readers everywhere. More documents Similar magazines Info. Share from cover. Share from page:. Flag as Inappropriate Cancel. Delete template? Are you sure you want to delete your template?

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WebDownload or read book 20 Master Plots written by Ronald B. Tobias and published by Penguin. This book was released on with total page pages. Available in . WebSep 13, �� Download a free PDF of the checklists for each of the 20 master plots. About the Book Learn more timeless plots for your fiction in 20 Master Plots by Ronald . WebDownload PDF or read online 20 Master Plots Book by Ronald B. Tobias and published by Penguin. This book was released on with total page pages. Available in .