Continuing the series on plot: Plot templates are helpful in telling an author the possible events for different sections of the story.
I like to consult these when I’m first thinking of a idea for a novel and when I start a revision. I want to know what is typical for the type story I’m telling and knowing that, I can create variations that will hold a reader’s interest.
Here are some of the most helpful.
The most simplistic plot template
- Adventure comes to you. A Stranger comes to town.
- You go to Adventure. You leave town.
A more complex approach to plot templates: I fully discuss the process of plotting with these plot templates in Start Your Novel: Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter
- Quest. Character oriented story, the protagonist searches for something and winds up changing him/herself.
- Adventure. Plot oriented, this features a goal-oriented series of events.
- Pursuit. This is the typical Chase Plot. Definitely action-oriented.
- Rescue. Another easy to recognize action-oriented plot.
- Escape. A variation on the Rescue is when the protagonist escapes on his/her own.
- Revenge. Ah, character comes back in with this one. Someone is wronged and vows to take revenge.
- The Riddle. Love a good mystery? This is the plot for you.
- Rivalry. Character oriented, this story follows two main characters, one on a downward track and one on an upward track and their interactions.
- Underdog. Everyone is the US roots for the Underdog. This is the plot where the under-privileged (handicapped, poor, etc) triumphs despite overwhelming odds.
- Temptation. Pandora’s Box extended to novel form.
- Metamorphosis. This is a physical transformation of some kind. If you recently watched the movie, “District 9″, you’ll recognize this plot form. It’s Dracula, Beauty and the Beast, or the one I remember best is The Fly.
- Transformation. Similar to the previous, this plot features an inner change, instead of changing the outer form.
- Maturation. Bildungsroman, rite of passage, coming-of-age–these terms all refer to someone growing up morally, spiritually or emotionally. Often, it’s just a hint of growth, or a tiny change that hints at larger changes.
- Love. The classic Boy-meets-Girl plot.
- Forbidden Love. Oh, hasn’t Stephenie Meyer milked this one in her Twilight series? Brilliant use of the forces that keep her characters apart, while still attracting.
- Sacrifice. From the Biblical tale of Jesus to the story of parents sacrificing for their children, this is a staple of literature.
- Discovery. You know those secrets you’ve buried deep in your past? This story digs around, exposes secrets and watches them affect the characters.
- Wretched Excess. When a character is in a downward spiral from alcohol, drugs, greed, etc. this is the plot form.
- Ascension or Descension. A rise or fall from power puts a character into this plot form.
Hero’s Journey: Adapted from Joseph Campbell’s Mythic Hero
- Christopher Vogler’s explanation of the Hero’s Journey is excellent. The basic stages, along with the corresponding character arc are these:
- Ordinary World – Limited awareness of problem
- Call to Adventure – increased awareness
- Refusal of Call – reluctance to change
- Meeting the Mentor – overcoming reluctance
- Crossing the First Threshold – committing to change
- Tests, Allies, Enemies – experimenting with 1st change
- Approach to the Inmost Cave- preparing for big change
- Supreme Ordeal – attempting big change
- Reward – consequences of the attempt
- The Road Back – rededication to change
- Resurrection – final attempt at big change
- Return with Elixir – final mastery of the problem
- You write comedy or humor and want a plot for a novel?
John Vorhaus, in The Comic Toolbox adapts the hero’s journey into a Comic Throughline.
Two Characters Interact.
- Similar to the Hero’s Journey is Peter Dunne’s adaptation to a story in which two main characters influence each other, or one character drastically changes a second. The Emotional Structure details how the characters interact. This could be a sort of Rivalry story from above, a Love story, a Forbidden Love story, or even one of Pursuit, Rescue, or Escape. The main thing here is that two characters act upon each other.
Card’s MICE quotient
- Taking a completely different tack, Orson Scott Card in his book, Characters and Viewpoint, asks what aspect of the story are you most interested in? One strength of this approach is that it tells you where to start and end your story.
- Milieu. When the setting is in the forefront, as it is in many sff stories, you have a milieu story. The setting, culture, world created is the focus of the story. This explains why Tolkein didn’t stop The Lord of the Rings when the battle against Mordor was won; instead, because the focus is on the milieu, he continues on, following the hobbits home, the leaving of the elves and so on, until the Age of Men is established.
- Idea. A question is posed and answered. The classic mystery plot.
- Character. This story begins and ends with pure character.
- Event. Here, Card says that something in the universe is out of balance and the protagonist must right-the-wrong, restore-the-rightful-king, restore justice, defeat evil, etc. If The Lord of the Rings had been this type story, it would have indeed ended when the evil was defeated.
Are there more plot templates? Probably. From these, though, you can see perhaps the usefulness and limitations of using a template. You don’t want a cookie-cutter plot; however, you need to meet the expectations of readers in a certain genre. Templates are the starting point for exploration of the events in a story.