On Stories: Plot and Theme and finding a way in the story wilderness.

Last week I talked with two people, professional writers with numerous books to their credit, and even they can’t agree on the idea of plot.  What they came up with was (“J” 4, “M” 3):  Man against man, Man against God—with man against nature separate or included–and Man against himself. 

What I would like to talk about over the next few weeks is more than 3 or 4 plots.  Of course “J” would probably insist I was writing about themes.  Sheesh!  We can’t even agree on the terminology…  Then again, that may be a strong reason as to why plot has been so misunderstood and, I feel, poorly taught in so many settings.

Out of deference to my friend, I want to talk about 3 themes, each of which may be divided into several plots.  In every case (where I can) I will also try to show how these plots might be tailored to internal (character focused) stories and external (event or action) stories..  Working, then, from back to front:

The third theme I call plots of the heart (or maybe soul or spirit if you prefer those terms).  This is not to say all other plots are devoid of an emotional component, only…It will be a while before I get there.

The second theme will be journey plots.  There are many ways one pursues a quest, and they only occasionally end in funeral plots. (Sorry.  I had to work that in here somewhere)  ANYWAY…   This will be the second theme: a journey of one kind or another,

The first theme I want to tackle are plots of competition, and I put it first only because our study of Cinderella has already given us a competitive plot:  The Underdog.  Plots of competition really include all of the plots my professional writing friends named.  These are plots where there is an “against,” as in, Man against man (the obvious one), but also against God, against Nature and against the self. 

I also put plots of competition first because they are the ones that invariably (though not always) include a protagonist (good guy) and antagonist (bad guy) and so they are the ones everyone thinks of when they think of the word “plot.”  Every story has to have a protagonist and an antagonist, doesn’t it?  No… But for the most part, plots of competition do.

NOW THE DISCLAIMER:  I should maybe post this each time…  No plot is pure apart from some simple short stories and fairy tales.  Every story, and certainly every novel, movie and play will be complicated by sub-plots of one kind or another.  So when I give an example, I am NOT saying it is the ONLY thing the book is about.  I am only saying, in my opinion, it is the MAIN plot in the story (or if not main plot, I will point that out).  Your opinion may vary.  I repeat:  Your opinion may vary.

NOW THE PREPARATION:  In the course of these posts, I will not (normally) give much of a template.  The idea isn’t to plug your characters, and setting into the slots and produce a story.  It is enough to have examples and hopefully get the idea of how the particular plot works.  How you tailor the plot to your story is what will make your story great!

For next time, be prepared for The Adversaries!

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