I started writing my fiction right after I returned from a deployment filled with underway watch rotations and Dungeons & Dragons when not on duty. If you have ever played tabletop (pen-and-paper) D&D, you know that progress can be glacial. Six months of playing doesn’t always amount to much character development.
After the ship returned home, I sat down with my brand-new Apple IIe clone and wrote some of the adventures of the character I had played as we filled the hours floating on the open ocean. Some 30,000 words into my imagination, I got distracted, and life moved at a tangent. But I never forgot the story of Meegan Redoak, ranger and reluctant adventurer. Although I still remember the plot archetype, my original story thread is lost to time. The best part of this unfinished story is that I have more of a world on which to hang the plot. I have more than a location on a hand-drawn map. I have antagonists who drive the conflict and the sort-of (but not quite) obvious spy within the party.
Because I have several unfinished novels, and no idea where to take them, I decided to learn how to plot a book. I had heard about Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lectures on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy on social media, so I began watching the videos and taking notes. To further imprint the information on my brain, I’ve been following up with videos from other writing vloggers on sites such as Reedsy, Trope Talk, and TruScribe.
One book title bubbled to the surface as I watched videos, The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker. According to Booker, the seven basic plot archetypes are as follows:
- The Quest: The protagonist seeks a goal and must face all the stuff in their way to achieve that goal. Examples of quest stories include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Watership Down, and The Lightning Thief.
- Rebirth: An event happens that upends the protagonist’s world, and they commit to changing as a person. Examples of rebirth stories include A Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, and The Secret Garden.
- Overcoming the Monster: The protagonist goes up against a “monster” of some type that must be defeated for the protagonist to survive. Examples of overcoming monsters include The War of the Worlds, Dracula, and Beowulf.
- Voyage and Return: The protagonist is whisked out of their “normal” life and must face a series of challenges and obstacles to return home, having had experiences they would not have had otherwise. Examples of the voyage and return include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and The Time Machine.
- Rags to Riches: A character with humble beginnings gains something of importance, loses it, then gains it back again. Examples of rags to riches include Cinderella, The Prince and the Pauper, and David Copperfield.
- Tragedy: Everything bad happens to the protagonist, whose fundamental flaws lead to their own undoing. Examples of tragedies include Romeo and Juliet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Anna Karenina.
- Comedy: The flip side of tragedy where a light-hearted character gets a cheerful ending after a long, confusing, and often humorous tale. Examples of comedies include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Knowing what the plot archetypes are can help you track the progress of the promises made at the beginning of the story. Each archetype has a progression that is expected by the reader, which can help with pacing. Now that I know more about the arcs I need to look into for my tales, I can visualize where the characters need to go next. I have a better idea of how to get them there. Each archetype has its own “roadmap” to completion, so now I have places I can investigate further.
I still have a lot to learn. Right now, I’m taking baby steps and sharing my new-found knowledge with you, my readers. I’ll continue blogging my journey on Fridays as I process what I’ve learned for the week.
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