Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What is the Plot?

According to Ronald Tobias, all story lines of novels, plays and movies fall into one of 20 "Master Plots." They are:

1. Quest  
2. Adventure
3. Pursuit
4. Rescue
5. Escape
6. Revenge
7. The Riddle
8. Rivalry
9. Underdog
10. Temptation
11. Metamorphosis
12. Transformation
13. Maturation
14. Love
15. Forbidden Love
16. Sacrifice
17. Discovery
18. Wretched Excess
19. Ascension
20. Descension.

Nice try. But way too simplistic.The problem is that Tobias' list falls all over itself. For each of his "Master Plots" is so obviously connected to others.

What would Tobias select as the "Master Plot" of, say, Homer's Iliad? It would be a pretty tough choice, if you ask me, because the Iliad fits every single one of them. Think about it -- every single one.

No, true art reflects real life. And life just doesn't fit easily into separate compartments. It flows in and out and around all of these things. Even my own life, though it is not nearly as exciting or as broad as the Iliad, would easily encompass all 20 of Mr. Tobias' "Master Plots" as well. I have been on quests and adventures; I have discovered and loved; I have suffered temptation and descension. Indeed, I have not only experienced all 20 "Master Plots" over and again but I have experienced an awful lot of them at the same time.

No, I'm afraid that Mr. Tobias' scheme isn't very helpful after all.

So how does one best describe a novel's plot? Well, I think my Russian lit teacher back at Bear Creek High had the best solution. He believed the plot of a story was simply the answer to the question, "And what happened next?"