Plots and Patterns

Design Patterns

In my IT degree course, we learned about Design Patterns. A design pattern for coding is like a template, evolved and shaped to solve a commonly recurring problem. Why reinvent the wheel? Clever software designers provide patterns for these, upon which to construct your specific solution. The same goes for plots and patterns, or plot templates if you like. There are arguments about how many exist, but the book I have found the most helpful is 20 Master Plots (and how to build them) by Ronald B. Tobias.

How Do I Structure This?

Why do any of us write? We long to find the meaning of life, solve the human condition. Writing is one way of getting in to it. That’s why we find it compelling and once we’ve solved it, we won’t need fiction any more. (Intentional irony, in case you were wondering.)  In the meantime, humans churn out terabytes of the written stuff to make sense of their lives. An idea for a novel can start with any snippet or fragment, or a particular human relationship. It’s hard to top the classic Monty Python delivery of The Meaning of Life, (movie, check it out on IMDB),  but you’ll have your own ideas. The itch needs to be powerful enough to sustain you for the years required to complete the work. I like my characters to appear first. Usually the MC (main character) turns up and tells me he has a problem.

Plots and Patterns

So which plots and patterns should you choose? When you have a basic story idea clear in your mind, as in “It’s about…” in essence, the elevator pitch, you should be able to find that one or two patterns present themselves as candidates. Patterns are useful things. I like them. Don’t worry that it’s been used before; the writer’s trick is to put his own stamp of originality on it.

Which master plot do I go for? It depends on the main premise of your story, the genre, and which components or ideas you wish to emphasise. The same story idea or a life event can be told in any number of ways. It’s the writer’s treatment of it that sets it apart.  In Tobias’ book, the clue is in the name. There are master plots for Rescue stories, Revenge stories, Quest, Rivalry, Underdog, etc. You get the idea. It helps to sketch out your elevator pitch in advance as I said above. Once you’ve decided on a plot template, it won’t make the writing easier, but it will clarify your intention and help you to make the right decisions to develop your idea.

Suzanne Collins

She broke the mould for YA fiction with her story of Katniss Everdeen. MOCKINGJAY, the third book in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, is the first book in years to make me cry. Suzanne Collins is one of the literary greats. Her originality, brilliance and technical skill are outstanding. For the full effect, read them in order, before you see the movie. If you want to have such an impact on your reader, check out best-sellers in your chosen genre. Study them to identify the master plot and other techniques the writer has used to create such a work, then apply them to your own.

Happy plotting.

Credits: Pic of old-fashioned preset button by Picjumbo.
First published 2012

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