Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Basic Plot Structure

Plot is one of those story elements that in theory is really simple, but in practice is where most good-intentioned novels fail, and also why query letters are so hard to write. We all know that there are like seven original plots in the world. We speak of plot elements using various terms like conflict, resolution, black moment, premise. Distilled, we know that premise + conflict = plot.

One of the common plot constructs is called The Hero's Journey, which is a mythical construct made famous by Joseph Campbell. I studied Campbell and the myth stuff back in college. I also dismissed the hero's journey plot construct as not the one I was using for my novel (the one set in Greece).

So imagine my surprise and annoyance when I found this:

Oh yes. This is almost exactly the plot of my novel. Down to a T. (What does T mean anyway?) I would say that for most character-driven plots and most women's fiction plots where the character undergoes a personality transplant, this is the one. Now, there's a ton of other stuff that goes into a typical Hero's Journey plot, things like "Goddesses" and "mentors" and other malarkey, but this diagram really pins down the big-picture structure of it. See the hiker guy at the top? He starts out on an adventure, does something to cross a point of no return, and does some changing and stuff, and his overriding problem catches up to him and throws him into an abyss of realization. This leads to a crucial change, after which he tries hard to make up for being an arse (if he was an arse), and then he makes some sort of return to home. Does this sound familiar? I bet it does. Think of your own story and favorite novels.

(Here's another look at the Hero's Journey structure, with a lot more malarkey thrown in.)

So, how well does this fit in with your overall plot? Can you plug your story into the diagram above (excepting Goddess stuff--or not)? I'm very interested in your responses.


Jm Diaz said...

Nope, mine is not a hero's journey, though I am quite fond of those stories.

Travener said...

My eyes cloud over and my brain goes into a death stall when I see diagrams like the one delineating the Hero's Journey. Worst decision I ever made was majoring in English. All that exegesis of texts and blah blah blah practically killed my interest in literature. When it comes to plot, I follow the advice of Irving Berlin and do what comes naturally.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Travener, you don't have to pay attention to the malarkey that goes with it. I was interested in the visual representation of the journey of the charachter.

JM--what plot do you use?

Cammie said...

Cool post - gives me something to think about. I think you're right about well-intentioned plots failing. I too write women's fiction and I've found it's easy for plot to get lost in the subtleties of the genre (ie, inner-discovery often being the driving force instead of big action).

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post! There is a lot to be said for the validity of the Hero's Journey structure. It works, and it fits bunches of classic favorites, including Harry Potter.

Tara McClendon said...

Mine follows this. I'm a big believer in the change is in the details not the plot.

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