There’s nothing worse than spending months, years even, writing your novel, only to find that the moment you come to publish it or submit it to agents or publishers, there is one already one the shelf with virtually the same plot as yours.
While this can be quite disheartening, it does not mean writers should abandon their projects with failed hope. The simple truth is that plots are not limitless, but ideas are.
How often have you watched a movie or read a book and the story is so familiar to something else you’ve seen or read? That’s because they are inevitably similar; they share the same plot outline, but they’re not exactly the same. That’s because they will have very different characters, different themes, different subplots and different styles. They will have different titles, too. So even if you have a novel that is very similar to one that has just hits the book shelves, don’t despair. Yours will, inevitably, be quite different.
All stories are unique. They can share similar story arcs and themes, but intrinsically, characters and situations will be very different.
How Many Plots?
You may have heard of plenty of suggestions about how many plots actually exist, with those who say there are only 7 basic plots, or 20 plots, but most of what is proffered in these cases are not actual plots, but conflicts. Conflicts are not plots. Other lists are less definitive.
Christopher Booker lists seven basic plots, which are: Overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy and rebirth. While there is nothing wrong with this list, there is a lot left out where plots are concerned. There are definitely more than seven plots available to writers.
Ron B. Tobias suggests there are 20 plots, ranging from Quest, Escape, Forbidden Love, right through to Ascension and Descension. His list covers a lot, but like Booker, it’s not extensive enough and doesn’t have as much clarity as one of the best lists out there, written by Frenchman, Georges Polti, who put together a list of dramatic situations. It is said that the originator of these dramatic situations was Carlo Gozzi (writer of Turandot, on which Puccini based his opera), and Polti simply organised them into a definitive list.
According to Polti, in reality, there are 36 true plots available to writers. Logically speaking, he is fairly accurate with his list. There can be a limitless amount of subplots created from these plots, which is why so many other books out there may share similarities with your masterpiece.
And here they are, all 36 plots:
1. Supplication (the supplicant is seen to beg something from power/or authority)
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
9. Daring Enterprise
11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
17. Fatal Imprudence
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother, sister, etc.)
19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognised
20. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonour of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
31. Conflict with a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgement
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones.
In truth, all plots are the same, but it is how the writer applies the story, the characters, the subplots, themes and so on, that really matters. That is what sets the story apart from every other story.
If twenty writers are given the same plot, they will write twenty very different stories, so even though it seems that someone has beaten you by publishing a story that mirrors your plot, you can rest assured that your story will be quite different.
Every plot follows the same premise – something happens in the main character’s life that changes their life and they have do something to solve the situation and overcome problems that arise from it. But it’s how we make it all happen that sets our work apart from others.
Being fresh and unique helps you get ahead because while you can still write the same basic ideas, by being exceptional and different in your approach to your characters, story perspectives, themes, situations and outcomes, you create something very different for the reader.
Remember, all books are not the same. Just similar.
As long as you are fresh in approach with your story ideas and you can offer a different twist on the plot, then it doesn’t really matter.
Your story will still be unique.
Thank you to all readers and followers for your continued support. I’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.
Allwrite will return 3rd January 2015.