Plotting seems to be my weakest skill, so I’m always interested in improving it. I snatched up 20 Master Plots (and How to Build Then) by Ronald B. Tobias when I found it at the library. The edition I read was published in 1993. A newer edition was published in 2003.
Mr. Tobias categorizes the twenty plots in chapters with titles like “Quest”, “The Riddle” (of particular interest to this crime writer), “Temptation”, and “Sacrifice.” For each plot he summarizes classic examples. In “Quest”, he uses The Wizard of Oz and the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece. In “Sacrifice”, he describes the plots for the movies Casablanca and High Noon. The 1949 film noir D.O.A. is the example for “The Riddle”.
Before he gets to the master plots, Mr. Tobias has five chapters on some basic principles of plot, including story vs. plot, creating opposing arguments, and the inseparable link between plot and character. Some of his points I already knew and appreciated the author’s confirmation. Others were new to me. Some I disagreed with, such as Mr. Tobias doesn’t like plots that exist solely to deliver a “gotcha” to the reader. I loves those kind of plots in short stories.
Warning for Worriers
When I first had my kids, I tried to read What to Expect When You are Expecting from cover to cover and gave myself a terrible case of anxiety. Every time I read about a particular developmental problem or disease, I worried that one of my children was exhibiting those symptoms. I learned I should only consult the book when I had specific need, such as a teething problem.
It works the same with books on writing.
If I pick one up without a specific purpose in mind, I imagine my writing has every problem the author of the advice book outlines. If your mind runs this away too, then only go to writing books when you want help in a specific area. When several agents told me to work on “show, don’t tell”, I bought two book on the topic. When I thought my dialogue could be better, I checked out a book from my library.
What resources have you found to help you with plot?
I like Ronald B. Tobias. I also like Susie May Warren’s The Story Equation.
I haven’t heard of Susie May Warren’s book. Thanks for the recommendation.
Honestly, I *still* need help on plot – so I should look for this book. Thanks for blogging about it. I have a book on character traits that I need to study so I can make my characters more three-dimensional and distinct from each other.
Is it “The Emotion Thesaurus” or “Writer’s Guide to Character Traits”?
Writer’s Guide to Character Traits. But I want that whole thesaurus series.
I have a post on “The Emotion Thesaurus” if you haven’t seen it. Just type the title in the search bar.
‘Story Genius’ by Lisa Cron is brilliant, as is ‘The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction’ by C.S Larkin and ‘Structuring Your Novel’ by K.M Weiland
I tried “Story Genius” but didn’t get far. Maybe I should try it again. I haven’t heard of the others, but I have read K.M. Weiland’s blog.
Thank you for the recommendation. I try to revisit stories I liked and map out their plots. I’m hesitant to read how-to guides because I don’t want to become formulaic (if I hear about Star Wars and The Hero’s Journey one more time…), but I recognize it’s good to have guideposts. Principles become especially handy at the drafting stage for me. Thanks for sharing!
No, you don’t want to be formulaic. I think you have to know and understand the formula of the genre or style you want to write in. Then you’ll know when you can break from the formula.