One of the things I do when I'm in the plot revision stage* is look at plot and consult my books on the subject. My favorite, which I've mentioned many times, is James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, which I think is one of the most simple, easy books on plot around.
*I talk like I'm a pro and have done this a million times, but it's important to say here that in fact I only recently learned to revise this way from the top down, and let the technical aspects go until later.
One thing that stuck out at me more this time than any other (which is telling) is Bell's discussion on character arc, which dovetails into the plot. He says it should be like this:
- First doorway (almost always reluctantly)
- A deepening disturbance
- A moment of change (epiphany)
I put this to the test. I thought of popular plots and yes, they check out--across all genres:
- Star Wars: the first doorway occurs when Luke's uncle and aunt are vaporized by Imperial troopers. He then decides to join Obi-wan to go fight the Empire. But he is reluctant to go at first, and if his only known family hadn't been just killed, he might not have done it. (Let's not argue that the Force would have drawn him in anyway.)
- GhostTown (the movie with Ricky Gervais): Ricky's character, Bertram Pincus, can see ghosts after he dies and comes back on the operating table. He really does not want to see ghosts, or talk to anyone in particular, and so this new skill is really annoying to him.
- The Lord of the Rings: Frodo really does not want to go take on the pressure of the ring, and he reluctantly accepts the heavy burden of traveling to Mordor.
- The Godfather: Michael Corleone does not want to join his family's "business" but steps through the first doorway nonetheless-- shooting the crooked cop and his father's enemy.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Blomkvist, the main character, doesn't really want to go take the job of writing the old guy's story, does he? But he does. His decision to do it forces him through the first doorway into the story.
- The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews (contemporary women's fiction): The main character is fired from her job and her father tells her to go fix up an old house he's inherited. She really doesn't want to because the house is in a small backwater town, but she goes because she'll be financially cut off if she doesn't.