Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Similar, But Not the Same

Camilla Franks at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, photo by Eva Rinaldi, via Flickr
The other day when I was at church I couldn't help noticing that two women sitting apart from each other wore the same floral patterned top.

After a second look, I realized that actually one of them wore a pull-over blouse, while the other had on a short-sleeved cardigan.

What could this discovery have to do with writing?

Well, some authors get the notion that others steal their ideas. In some cases, that might be true. However, in many, it's not.

According to British journalist and author, Christopher Booker, in his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are only seven basic storylines.

Wikipedia lists them along with examples, of which I've provided one for each.

1. Overcoming the Monster - James Bond
2. Rags to Riches -  Cinderella
3. The Quest -  The Wizard of Oz
4. Voyage and Return - Odyssey
5. Comedy - A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Tragedy - The Picture of Dorian Gray
7. Rebirth - Sleeping Beauty

For every example here, there are many others which also follow the same basic plot, yet are unique in their own right.

In other words, there may be seven plots, but it's what authors do with them that set their stories apart.

Can you think of an example from one of your books, or another's, using one of these plots?


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10 comments :

  1. I suppose for mystery writers, The Quest is always finding the murderer. For thriller writers, Overcoming the Monster--the evildoer who wants to destroy the world--would work. But there are so many tangents and tentacles to make your story different, it's rare that the story is the same, even if the basic plot is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True. That's why some books hold my interest and some fall short.

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  2. Ironically, yes. I have a draft molding in a drawer about lucid dreaming that features the protagonist replaying a game inside her dreams. I just heard an acquaintance of a friend is publishing a book about lucid dreaming that also features game playing. Weird huh? Seriously, though, give ten writers the same premise, perhaps even the same conflict outline, and you will end up with ten different stories. No one writes identically. The story is filtered through their thoughts, beliefs, outloooks, and talents. There have certainly been cases of blatant plagiarism. I do wonder if e-book pirating makes that easier. Upload a book, change a few names, places, details. Slap on a new title...

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  3. When I give my workshop on voice, I'll toss out a simple scenario, or have the participants write about a picture. The responses are always different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every person has unique experiences to tap into to make a plot different.

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  4. Several years ago, I was the speaker at a meeting of a western Colorado writers group. Not one who loves the adrenalin rush of getting up in front of people, I opted to make the evening a group participation event. For one exercise, I passed out papers that all contained the same character sketch and asked the audience to write a story opening of 150-200 words. The results were stunning. Each attendee read his or her piece aloud, and each had developed a significant hook -- and yet were all very different. The creative spark and energy flow that filled the room was quite spectacular.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goes to show how unique each writer is.

      Delete
  5. Good topic, Morgan. But then, you usually come up with something interesting.
    OK, I am rising to your challenge of matching my books to these categories:

    1. Overcoming the Monster - James Bond
    Any of the 26 stories in "Striking Back from Down Under"

    2. Rags to Riches - Cinderella
    Nothing published, but my just-finished novel "Hit and Run" may qualify. Slum boy turned multiple killer becomes a decent person. That's better than riches in money terms.

    3. The Quest - The Wizard of Oz
    "Ascending Spiral," my latest novel is in part a quest.

    4. Voyage and Return - Odyssey
    "The Travels of First Horse." This is a 10 year journey.

    5. Comedy - A Midsummer Night's Dream
    Some of the stories in "Through Other Eyes." Only, I don't have a sense of humor.

    6. Tragedy - The Picture of Dorian Gray
    My sense of humor won't let me write tragedy.

    7. Rebirth - Sleeping Beauty
    "Sleeper, Awake" is the story of someone waking 1433 years after going into cryogenic storage.

    By the way, I reckon there are good books that mix these themes, or avoid them altogether.

    Offhand, I can think of at least one: where the tension comes via inner conflict.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looks like you've taken advantage of the different plots available, Dr. Bob. Good for you!

      Delete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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