Saturday, 18 July 2015

Tips for novelists, from a scriptwriter's toolkit. Part Two - plots

In the first part of this article I talked about why the best stories are archetypes, and where those archetypes came from. This time I want to talk about types of plot. Some people will argue there are 22 plots. Some will argue there are 36. Some, that there are 7. I am here to tell you that there is only one.

 The way I look at it is that every single story, no matter what it is, is a quest: a quest find true love, a quest to find the criminal, to escape from a desert island, to find the perfect recipe, to reveal the ghost, to travel across the country. It doesn't matter what the theme of your story is, the plot is a quest. Once you realise this then you can work out the various aspects accordingly. Writers get so hung up on fitting their story into one of the 22 or 36 or 7 types (or however many plots is the favourite number this week) that they end up confused and struggling to fit it into any kind of a plot. Couple this with the idea that novelists always seem to have, that they don't really need to know their characters, and that what they are actually doing is waiting for them to reveal themselves on the page, and you have a recipe for disaster.


Fact is, it is absolutely imperative that you know everything there is to know about your characters. Scriptwriters learn very early on in their 'training' that you have to do this, otherwise you cannot play out your story to its full potential. Then, there are all the others aspects of your story to take into consideration. For instance, will it be a slow burner, or will you leap straight into the action? Will it be plot led or character led? (If you can, make it both.) Have you worked out the beginning, and the end? Do you know which of your characters will carry the story, or will it be an ensemble piece? What's the location and era? Will it be first person or third? Past or present tense? Do you want it to be a page turner? Will it be action packed, or a drawn out emotive tale? All these aspects, and many more, must be carefully considered before you put pen to paper...or rather, these days, fingers to keyboard.

The thing is though, you don't need to worry about all the different types of plot there might be, if you just keep in mind that there is only one plot, and in fact, no matter the theme of that one plot, it is actually only about one thing. That one thing is survival. Everything in our life is about survival. So, if we are looking for the perfect partner, its about our survival in a potential relationship. If we are hoping to sail across the Atlantic, it's about whether we will survive that journey. If we are planning the perfect crime, it's about whether we will survive to commit more crimes (or end up in prison). Catch my drift?

Now, it may well be that you think I have over simplified things, but I assure you,you can throw stories at me until you are blue in the face, but I will show you how it fits this model. Scriptwriters know all these things because scripts are very carefully designed stories that model archtypes. Even those who argue otherwise, and attempt to write scripts outside the format, unconsciously conform. Even those scripts for stories that challenge everything we know about storytelling. This says a lot about how the human mind craves completion, and satisfaction.

More soon.