Friday, July 27, 2012

What's the Plot?

As a large chunk of literature students around America know, Ronald Tobias claims that the story line of any novel, play or movie falls into one of 20 Master Plots.

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.

The problem, is that Tobias' list falls all over itself. Each Master Plot is too closely connected to another. They collide, merge, overlap and mix together. To take one example, what would Tobias select as the Master Plot of Homer's Iliad? Tough choice, right? That's because the Iliad could fit quite comfortably into any one of the 20. Think about it. Every single one.

The weakness in Tobias' desire to identify and organize plots, of course, is that life itself doesn't easily fit into separate compartments. The intricacies of life -- they too collide, merge, overlap and mix together. Even my own life story, though not nearly as complex as the Iliad, would still embrace all 20 of Mr. Tobias' Master Plots. I suspect that many of you could say the same.

I think one of my high school literature teachers had the most honest and helpful perspective on this matter. He believed the plot of a story was simply the answer to the question, "And then what happened?"

I've found that works best. Thanks, Mr. Bandauer.