Saturday, 20 December 2014

Are Plots Really All the Same?

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)
2. Deliverance
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
5. Pursuit
6. Disaster
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
8. Revolt
9. Daring Enterprise
10. Abduction
11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
12. Obtaining
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
16. Madness
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
25. Adultery
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonour of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
30. Ambition
31. Conflict with a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgement
34. Remorse
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones.

Don’t Panic

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.
Be Different
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.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Passive & Active Voice

You may have heard ‘passive’ and ‘active’ voice mentioned in previous articles, or seen something written about them online and wondered if they are really that important in fiction writing, especially with the emerging consensus among self-published writers they can ‘write what they like’. Of course they can write what they like. It’s just most of it isn’t worth reading.
So what is passive and active voice? Is it really that important?
When we talk about active or passive voice, it means that the verb is either active or passive. For instance:
John answered the door = active sentence.
The door was answered by John = passive sentence.
The first example is active because the subject and verb is in the correct sequence. In active sentences, something that is doing the action is the subject of the sentence. The thing receiving the action is the object.
Therefore in the above sentence, John is the subject. ‘Answered’ becomes a verb because it is the action being used with an object. The object is the door.
Subject – Verb – Object = Active.
In the passive sentence, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it by someone or something, or the object.
So, in the above example, the object is the door. The verb ‘answered’ is the action and the subject is John.
Object – Verb – Subject = Passive.
In the grand scheme of things, passive and active voice is very important to understand for any writer.  It’s essential to show the story and your characters with an active voice rather than a passive one, especially when this has a direct relationship to the tenses, either making them active or passive tenses.
Passive voice examples:-
The plant was watered by John.

The eggs were beaten by the chef.

The phone was answered by Jane.

The number was memorised by Pete.

While not entirely grammatically incorrect, the way the sentences are structured leaves them weakened and clunky compared to today’s modern tastes and desire for the active voice. (Trends come and go in fiction writing, but on the whole some of them get consigned to the bin for very good reasons. Passive voice in fiction is one of them).

If those examples had been active tenses – dynamic in nature and more immediate than passive ones – they would be like this:

John watered the plant.

The chef beat the eggs.

Jane answered the phone.

Pete memorised the number.

You can see from these examples that the focus of the action is sharpened by the switch from passive to active and making sure the subject is doing the action. There is no doubt which voice is better.

Why Use Active Voice?

In the past – the last 200 years especially – there was a trend to use passive voice in literature, however, over the last 50 – 60 years, modern readers enjoy the active voice, the immediacy and instant connection it creates, giving them the feeling they are right in the thick of the action. The active voice keeps the narrative from wandering into passive territory.

Passive voice does the opposite - it slows the pace of a sentence, it stifles immediacy and makes it difficult for the reader to feel that immediacy. It will prove hard for the reader to become involved with the story, and that is precisely what you want for your reader; you absolutely want them involved, right from the very first page.

Passive voice also adds more unnecessary words to the sentence, and more often than not it relies heavily on the word ‘was’. This is a word to watch out for because it often makes sentences ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. And passive sentences are all ‘telling.’

So where creative fiction is concerned, writers should keep the voice active.
So, is it really THAT important?
In a nutshell? Yes, it is. It’s the difference between writing quality fiction and writing utter crap.

Next week: Are plots really all the same?