I haven’t done one of these posts in a while. This one is basic but important enough to be reminded about every so often.
Story and Plot
At the bare bones analysis of story and plot, every story has been told already. This determination has happened hundreds of years ago. Between Greek and Roman mythology, mythologies from native lands and counties, Fairy and Folk tales, famous Opera’s and Plays, and religious writings, every kind of struggle a human has to face has been told. The only thing that is going to make your story different and stand out is the way you deliver it. The garnish around the basic plot premise and the situation in which the basic plot unfolds will ‘trick’ the reader into thinking they have read something totally original.
The main component of a plot is a conflict.
Some common basic story plots, conflicts and archetypes include:
Man vs. Man – a character is trying to achieve something and another is trying to stop him
Man vs. Himself – this is the internal struggle of a man to change and the real enemy is within himself
The Quest – A man must obtain some sacred object and sets out into the world to get it. (‘sacred object’ is relative to the story and importance to the characters, not necessarily ‘sacred‘ ex: the toy in Jingle All the Way)
Man vs. Nature – a character is struggling to survive or make his family, community, comrades, safe against the forces of nature (weather, animals, natural phenomenon).
Man vs. Circumstance – a character struggles against his predictable fate or place in life and the world.
Man vs. Society – a character struggles against ideas, ideology, customs and beliefs of people that must be overcome to move forward. (these last two are almost the same but could have a few differences)
Most stories are based on these conflicts. Once you figure out which type of story you’re writing, it makes working on it easier. You can look at similar stories to gauge your plot, escalate conflict, and assess its originality.
A subplot involves a secondary conflict: ex. A person can be fighting against nature and also learning to trust him/herself to become a leader. – Or – A man can be on a quest but have another person trying to stop him, one that he must defeat.
Decide early on what type of story you’re writing and you will lead your characters to a logical conclusion.
You will notice that the Storyline Plot is often different than the ‘Character Arc’ Plot of your Main Character.
If you take Clash of the Titans for instance, Perseus is searching for a way to save Andromeda (Quest – story plot) and fighting Calibos (Man vs. Man – story plot), but is also learning about himself and trying to find his unique place in the scheme of life (Man vs. Himself – Character Plot).
another quick note on Plot
You should try to keep it realistic but find a way to make it feel fresh.
I find it amazing when I watch those documentary crime shows on TV (Lt. Joe Kenda is one of my current faves) that people are still being murdered for the same reasons we’ve always read about: Love Triangles, Insurance Policies, Money (as little as a few hundred dollars), and Jealousy. That makes it extra difficult to write crime drama or murder mysteries. However, good writers find a way to make it feel fresh to their readers.
“The question is not what you look at, but how you see it”
“The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.”
– William Faulkner
“Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.”
― Jarod Kintz