Plot Points

Dave Rawson TheGuy at DrawsOn.Com
Mon Feb 16 19:34:24 CET 2004

Matthew Williams <kingofduckburg at> wrote:

 > I wonder how many truly original plots are left out there!

There's actually a thin little book out there called "Twenty-One Plots" 
or something like that that posits that there are only a few possible 
plots (e.g. Man vs Nature, Man vs Man, Man vs The Gods, Man vs His Own 
Nature, etc.).

These are at a very high level of abstraction and that, I believe, is 
the clue to understanding. Congruence tends to be in the abstract, 
divergence in the details.

Anthologies have been written of different writers approach of the exact 
same abstract plot.

Think of the boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl. How many 
times has that been done? Why, kill them all in the end and it's 

 From a professional viewpoint, I always find it interesting (and 
sometimes quite painful) to watch the dictums that editors and 
publishers have regarding writing. "The character must always undergo 
change, or there is no arc." Sorry, wrong. "Drama is conflict. The 
villain must be strong." Nope, not true.

Virtually every dictum I've been handed by those in the know is silly 
with lots of tremendously successful storytelling to point to in 
"violation" to any given "must be".

Usually all I learn from a dictum is how poorly read or culturally 
under-exposed a given authority is.

I actually had an editor excise the word "hubris" because he didn't know 
what it meant and angrily pronounced that no one else, therefore, would 

Regardless, a freelancer is hired to do a job and ignores the stated 
requirements at their own peril, so ultimately it matters little about 
the dictum and the reality. The dictum becomes the contractual 
requirement and one accepts that and performs as requested.

I actually enjoy reading or watching stories that violate dictums.

I remember seeing a Bonnie Hunt movie, I think it was the final work of 
Carrol O'Conner. David Duchovny played a recent widower who falls in 
love with the woman who received his former wife's heart.

There was no villain in the drama. Every character in the story was 
humane. The conflict came entirely from whether or not the main 
character would ever tumble to what the audience knew (above) all along.

I thought it was a very sweet endeavor to stage the story this way.

As far as "change", which seems to be THE giant requirement of a 
generation of American editors, one need look no further than "A Day In 
The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's study of the 
Soviet Gulag, where it is the mind-numbing sameness that glorifies the 
inextinguishable human spirit. Nothing changes, life goes on, and 
therefore triumphs!

It doesn't take much thought to puncture the rules.

But one must understand the rules, to alter them.

You can build a house without framing if you wish, but you'd better 
understand distributed stress and tension if you want to inhabit it.

All that said, my personal bugaboo in Disney Comics is the aping of the 
super-hero. What if Mickey were Spider-man? The Hulk? Batman?

I know, what if Tolkein wrote with Disney characters?

What new movie is breaking and how can we loosely copy it and seem hip 
and timely?

This seems to me a creator that can't find any originality, but is 
desperate for approval and praise which, sadly, is often forthcoming. It 
just seems so calculated to me that it makes me feel crassly manipulated.

Regardless, it's inescapable that I have my own sources and biases in 
forming stories.

Likely that's why the most enduring advice for a writer is to write what 
one knows, thereby increasing the chance for "originality", whatever 
that might be.

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