Think / Pro: One Guiding Decision :: Plot It
Pick a Plot
the Key to ANY Story
*The Plot Types will take two blogs. (Sorry. Not.) Come back on the 10th for the finish line of this post.
Plot is the foundation of all story.
The key to any construction job is the foundation. People buy houses based on the square footage they need and the look of the life they want. The buyers don’t consider the state of the foundation; that’s the job of the builder. And the foundation is buried in the ground, unseen, doing its job without any acclaim or gratitude or blessing. Without a strong foundation, however, the whole structure will fall apart.
So it goes with story.
People may love the characters and chatter excitedly about events and the genre tropes, but everything—EVERYTHING—in that story will fall apart if the foundation is not solid. Should story-tellers neglect plot, the story suffers, and not even the most wonderful characters and stupendous events and twisty tropes can rescue it.
So I say it again: Plot is the foundation of story.
While we writers may begin with a “what-if” scenario or an interesting character, we must admit (and admit it early in our creative process) that we need to build a foundation to reveal the hearts and souls of our characters.
Without a solid foundation, no one will buy our house—or our story.
Building Avant Garde
I have a particular love of modern houses and furniture designs. I like non-tradition for its very difference: the new view of exteriors and living spaces, the juxtaposed twist on forms, the clever use of old materials in new ways, the strong shake that modern gives to the idea of home. Yet even Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters depended on a strong foundation.
Experimental poetry like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurbity” and e.e.cummings’ “but” and David Bottom’s “The Sun” may seem edgy and new, avant garde. As challenging as they are to read, poetry still depends upon certain foundational elements of the poetry genre.
Certain modern prose writers, even the absurdists, still manage to use foundations for their texts. Their plays and stories are as much negative mirrors of a type of plot as they are anything. In seeking to avoid, the most avant garde text reveals its foundation.
Tilt your head a little sideways and think metaphor. See it yet?
Like a painter manipulating negative space, the image is still revealed.
Absence is negative space which is revelatory to the Presence. What’s in front of us may look “gone”, but it still remains, waiting to be seen and understood.
Most readers’ (and viewers’) frustrations occur with stories and films that lack a strong foundation, never quite reaching a destination. People might claim a love of edgy chaos—but they don’t, not really. Just leave a story without its foundational climax and hear the wails.
Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger?”, anyone?
The role of any writing is to communicate. If you’re not communicating, are you writing?
Avant garde literature may attempt to avoid plot, but a close examination reveals the foundation, sometimes a mishmash that leaves no one happy except the artist who thinks s/he’s “modern”.
Let me dispel a couple of myths. First, nothing is new. Avant garde is not even new. And should such works somehow endure (Not likely; Shakespeare was not the only writer of his time, but he’s the only one who continues to entertain and enlighten us.), they are merely studied as the oddities that they are.
Take the most modern work we can find, apply a basic plot type, and we discover much. It isn’t new. It isn’t edgy.
So, that should win the debate about “My story’s different; my story’s new; my story’s unique.)
Building Plot: Booker’s 7 Types of Plot
When I first encountered this information—without any context—I assumed the Booker Prize People presented it. (We know what happens when people assume. I also should have known better, but I was crediting them with more sense.)
In his 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (influenced by Carl Jung), Christopher Booker returns to the roots of story.
No matter what kind of fiction you write (and this works for even much of the nonfiction realm), the foundational structure will fit one of these 7 Types.
Nyah, can’t be.
If it’s true, it will work across all times and all genres.
Let’s try it.
Overcoming the Monster
Beowulf, Jaws, Lord of the Flies, King Lear, Alien, Fried Green Tomatoes, Atonement
Rags to Riches
Cinderella, Aladdin, Oliver Twist, Great Gatsby, Prince and the Pauper, Good Deeds, Pretty Woman
Odyssey, Watership Down, Raising Arizona, Willow, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar, Pride and Prejudice
anything by Aristophanes, anything by the Marx Brothers, Airplane, The Blues Brothers, Animal House, A Walk in the Woods, Arsenic and Old Lace, Bringing Up Baby
Oedipus, Macbeth, Rebel without a Cause, Frances, Philadelphia, Cool Hand Luke, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Now Voyager, Summertime, Avatar, Persuasion
Voyage and Return
Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Brideshead Revisited, Mansfield Park, Great Expectations, The Tempest
Whaddya know? Christopher Booker is right. Whether concrete or abstract, real or metaphorical, all sorts of stories do fit these seven categories.
Knowing the type of plot helps writers determine the theme (or tagline) of the book.
I’m far from finished looking at Booker’s 7 Plots. I haven’t approached the KEY to STORY. Come back on the 10th for the three necessary elements in each type of plot as well as that KEY to unlocking the front door to your story.