1. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    Common Plot Structures

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by JHockey, Apr 18, 2012.

    I was reading a writers magazine earlier on and it suggested if you are struggling for inspiration to use a classic plot structure, and then fit your story in around this plot. I quite like original plots in books I read as it makes them less predictable. But there is obviously limits to originality in general plots. Also, it does seem like certain common plots appeal to human nature, and seem to grab our interest time and time again. What are anyones thoughts on the use of common plot structure or on being more creative about plot?
     
  2. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    I find common plot structures to be rather... Boring. Because I am pratically a seer in guessing what is going to happen next and then I am never actually surprised. So when I write I basically run away from plot structures. I try to write a story where I couldn't guess the end or the next step. Though I work so much in the plot that my characters end up too dull or too mild. Bleargh.
     
  3. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    Although, you can't avoid cliché until you know what one is. In literature a lot of thrills, suspense and humour comes from avoiding the expected, so it never hurts to familiarise yourself with what's expected so that you know what not to do.
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's possible to write a good, not-predictable story using a classic structure. the characters actions and choices can still be unique and interesting. But maybe we are talking about two different things when we say structure.
     
  5. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Whether you think so or not, no plot is new. There are only a finite amount of possibilities around which the story can revolve - some say five, some say seven - there's a bit of semantics in it. I mean, the main thrust of the plot i.e. Man vs Man, Man vs God, Man vs Society, Man vs Technology and so on.

    The structure and story are the unique bits you add.

    What does this advice give by way of an example regarding structure?
     
  6. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I agree with Tesoro in that you can write something unpredictable using classic structure. People seem to also be saying that "non-unique story = predictable story", and I don't think it's true. I think cliche's are okay as long as they are used appropriately. In general, all stories end with the good guy winning... yet that doesn't necessarily make the story predictable because you don't know how they win. Also, with some stories I'll notice the author kind of telegraphs that it's going to be the type of story where the protagonist learns something and changes a bit at the end. Again, even if you know this is likely to happen, it doesn't make the story predictable even if you know what the change will be... because you don't know how that change is going to manifest itself.

    Take the movie "The Matrix" for example. One of the major plotlines of that movie is that Morpheus thinks Neo is "The One"... and so it doesn't take a genius to figure out that by the end of the movie it turns out he IS "The One". It doesn't make the ending predictable. In fact, the ending would've probably sucked if they decided they were going to be unique and not go for the obvious "it turns out he's The One after all" ending.
     
  7. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    I found an online resource, suggesting there are twenty common plots. e.g. Quest, Love, Rivalry, Transformation, Maturation. I thought about it and realised there are ways in which you could reduce it greatly. But then the more you reduce it the less content there is to the structure. I get the feeling from this there is no such thing as a bare structure on its own. All plot characterisation relies to some extent on referring to the content. The most basic structure I can think of for a plot is the general narrative form itself. A protagonist brought to face a conflict that disturbs the equilbrium of life. The conflict being created by a system or antagonist. With a helper object or person aiding the protagonist. All complicated plot probably compounds a structure of this kind.

    By structure I meant a common formula used to achieve a certain emotional effect in the reader that has been succesful through human history in stories. E.g Tragedy. Also it said in the magazine article that 99% of hollywood movies follow the same plot structure. Maybe tapping in to a pattern that tends to have a strong emotional impact on people. I'm not sure but there may be something to it. What are peoples thoughts on this?

    As a result maybe in terms of content there are unlimited plots that could be potentially pursued. Creativity coming from this more than from structure. Although I suppose some short story writing can challenge the narrative form itself.
     
  8. names
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    names Member

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    I suggest you pick up master plots. You can make filler plots just as questing, or even add more plot by trying something like rivalry. There are more but those are the two I am trying at the moment.
     
  9. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I agree that unpredictable plots can absolutely come from 'classical' or 'traditional' structures. As said above, every plot has been done before, it's about how you portray it. The content of your story: the characters, setting, narrative style, etc, is the important thing to keep in mind. Using the traditional structure could actually be beneficial in lulling readers into a false sense of expectations.

    JHockey: I've read about this too. I think, generally speaking, that producers use this structure to pre-sell their films to audiences. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of commitment it takes watching a film vs. the commitment of reading a book.
     
  10. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I think one factor for the success of many Indian writers' writing in English is that they bring color, if you will, to the narrative style and setting. There is not much difference in the basic plot.
     
  11. Bobbycrane
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    Bobbycrane Banned

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    I have heard that there are a finite number of stories told in any format. It appears there are recurrent themes throughout history and most of or books/films/video games are just a modernising of these themes. I am particularly interested in plots and I think using a 'common' plot could be a lot of fun if there was room for creativity!
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Creativity comes in the details, Nuances of character, well turned phrases, crisp imagery, and effective use of pace and conflict.

    The big picture doesn't vary much. There are relatively few (relatively!) major story arcs and ways to structure them. So don;'t worry about creativeity at that level.

    Your task is harder. You have to be creative scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Analysis of fiction is fraught with pitfalls. Some say there are only seven basic plots, and some will contend that the number is greater or less. If you expand your scope enough, you can make a case that there's only one basic plot: "Somebody does something." But even that wouldn't be good enough for some people, because a writer will come along who will write a story in which nobody does anything.

    I think there comes a point at which literary theory is useless to the writer. Plot structures are for critics and theorists, and they'll fill the air with vacuous bullshit because they have deemed themselves experts. But none of that serves the reader or the writer; it just serves their own egos.

    Just write your stories!

    (Anyway, that's what I think on Sunday morning, April 22, 2012. My opinion might change tomorrow.)
     
  14. JHockey
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    JHockey Member

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    Thats very true, Samuel Becket plays come to mind.

    Good point. So many different agendas guiding what people say. The main thing is the story itself. It is already there in its pure form speaking for itself. It doesn't need an analysis to speak for it.

    You could be right there. For a book, or creative writing, you therefore have a lot more freedom to explore your ideas so you might as well make use of that. Although some books do try to hook in to a common plot pattern I think. Stephen King novels tend to have a very similar plot pattern which appeals to alot of people. Similarly for fantasy stories like lord of the rings and Harry Potter. These ones are tecnhically very good writing, but maybe a bit predictable. I find it turns me off a book a bit when it is too bare-faced and obvious in how it is trying to influence people with its structure.

    As others have been saying, the details are more important within the plot. There is no formula for good creative writing. If there were it wouldn't be creative. I think it is about focussing your creativity in certain areas where you are strongest, or in things that you are interested in, or in things that you need to work on. For an example, I've been doing a bit of study today on good words to use to evoke sensations like sounds, smells, and sights. Something I have tended to under use in my own writing I have noticed, compared to stuff that I have read by others.
     
  15. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    No, I've read some where the bad guy wins. Nineteen Eighty Four, for example. (I hope that's enough of a classic for people not to be upset about spoilers.) Even better, I've also read stories where it's hard to say who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
     
  16. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    Though I'm sure it's been said more eloquently, in my opinion it's not the structure of the plot that necessarily makes or breaks a good story. A good, well-written story is a good, well-written story. As Cog said, it's the nuances of the story that captivate readers and make an interesting story.

    There is nothing bad about using the 'classical' plot structure (you can look up the 'monomyth' for more) and there's nothing wrong with trying to depart from that. The one thing I don't like is when writer's force story lines and plots to the point of awkwardness because they want to be 'original.'

    Some of the best literary works follow relatively basic plot structures and are the better for it. If you believe your story calls for something different then you should be different.
     
  17. Xifos
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    Xifos New Member

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    i had a teacher in high school that i recently visited to talk about my book and how to improve it and she told me that there should be a ucture but she also said that by time every writer finds his own structure i personally dont care much until i see that it is problem for the book i go with guts
     

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