Learn to Master Your Stories

There are times when the story just isn’t flowing. The writing goes slowly, frustration sets in and we say things like, “It’s all been written before,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” or “I can’t say it better than it’s already been said by (fill in admired influence here).” That’s when you have to step back and open up a copy of Ronald B. Tobias’ 20 Master Plots (and How to Build Them) from Writer’s Digest Books

Tobias contends there are 20 master plots that are prevalent throughout literature. In each chapter, he provides an overview, descriptions and checklists and then illustrates this point by highlighting different stories that follow the same master plots. For instance, Tobias lays Jason & the Argonauts, Gilgamesh, Don Quixote and The Wizard of Oz side by side to show they all follow Master Plot #1: The Quest.

Here are some of the points on the checklist that end that chapter:

1. A quest plot should be about a search for a person, place or thing; develop a close parallel between your protagonist’s intent and motivation and the object he’s trying to find.

2. Make your character substantially different at the end of the story as a result of her quest. This plot is about the character who makes the search, not about the object of the search itself. Your character is in the process of changing during the course of the story. What or who is she becoming?

3. Your hero should have at least one traveling companion. He must have interactions with other characters to keep the story from becoming too abstract or too interior. Your hero needs someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to argue with.

4. Consider bringing your plot full circle geographically. The protagonist frequently ends up in the same place where she started.

Check out 20 Master Plots (and How to Build Them).

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