There are only two plots, or: How to have an existential crisis in writing - Page 2


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Thread: There are only two plots, or: How to have an existential crisis in writing

  1. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I think the character was ON Mars at the start of the story? His quest was trying to get home?

    I don't think there's any prayer of this construction working if you interpret it as a physical journey. There are loads of books that don't involve physical travel, either by the main character or by someone else moving to the main character's town. The only way it makes any sense is if metaphorical travel is included.

    In which case I'd say the journey in The Martian is from despair to hope or something like that (again, haven't read the book or seen the movie!). But I'd also say that interpreting the structure that broadly makes it fairly meaningless.
    It is correct that most modern works do not have the physical journey, particularly simpler non adventurous dramatic or romance stories, however I think they still include the journey or stranger motifs in clear ways, albeit metaphysical ones, as distinct from the earlier view that “everything’s a journey in a way, isn’t it?”


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  2. #12
    Occasionally we have a discussion about whether every book needs a goal, or conflict, or whatever. With a broad enough definition, the answer is always yes. I am not sure what that accomplishes, though. Yes, every hero takes a metaphorical journey. And ends up trying to accomplish something but there is some obstacle.

    I was reading a trading-places book, and I thought that trope was completely used up, but they did it in a creative way. (A hockey player traded with a figure skater). So it was old but new.
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  3. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by VonBradstein View Post
    They were, however the central plot does not have to entirely happen on screen, right? If so every movie would probably be ten hours long. Just because the movie begins arrived at the destination does not mean the story is not about traveling to a strange place, does it?The crux of the matter is the plot is still about a familiar, benevolent entity entering the malevolent unknown. Essentially Martian it’s the photographic negative of a traditional invasion story like War Of The Worlds when the malevolent martians (strangers) come to benevolent town (earth). According to the quote there is no such story on earth that does not involve a version of one or the other.


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    So we're broadening this even further, so that the central plot no longer has to appear "on screen"?

    That's a whole lot of work in order to make a classification system work. If it helps you understand fiction, I guess it's useful to you, but there's too much stretching required to make it useful to me.

  4. #14
    Wɾˇʇˇ∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    One of my favourite novels (actually it might even be a novella) - and the subject of a conversation here a few months back - was Rage by Stephen King / Richard Bachman. It barely leaves the room settingwise, although there are flashbacks and anecdotes that refer to some vignettes from the characters' pasts. Barring that gunshot it is pure character, so excepting the most extreme interpretation, no-one goes anywhere, and no stranger arrives. The Handmaid's Tale; I'm reading it now. Again, no-one journeys anywhere, but things, and people, have changed.

    Personally I think there is only one plot, namely: Something Out-of-the-Ordinary Happens.


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  5. #15
    Google led me to Quote Investigator's breakdown on the origin of this quote.

    It appears that Gardner wasn't actually saying there are only two plots—rather, he seemed to be giving two examples of an Inciting Incident. Somewhere along the way he got misquoted, and the misquote seemed to just . . . stick.

    Still, it's pretty neat how the two examples can describe a lot of plots. My WIP seems to fit into both. With some stories, though, you might need to do a bit of mental gymnastics in order to stuff everything into one of the two categories. The sprawling The World According to Garp comes to mind. Is it a journey, or the arrival of a stranger? Who knows.

    I bet a lot of great books defy plot simplification.

    (Also, the dark, mysterious tone of "A stranger comes into down" makes me immediately think of Stephen King.)

  6. #16
    Interesting. Learned something new!

  7. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyle R View Post
    (Also, the dark, mysterious tone of "A stranger comes into down" makes me immediately think of Stephen King.)
    Funny, it makes me think of every second Western story I've ever encountered (watched or read).
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  8. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyle R View Post
    Google led me to Quote Investigator's breakdown on the origin of this quote.

    It appears that Gardner wasn't actually saying there are only two plots—rather, he seemed to be giving two examples of an Inciting Incident. Somewhere along the way he got misquoted, and the misquote seemed to just . . . stick.

    Still, it's pretty neat how the two examples can describe a lot of plots. My WIP seems to fit into both. With some stories, though, you might need to do a bit of mental gymnastics in order to stuff everything into one of the two categories. The sprawling The World According to Garp comes to mind. Is it a journey, or the arrival of a stranger? Who knows.

    I bet a lot of great books defy plot simplification.

    (Also, the dark, mysterious tone of "A stranger comes into down" makes me immediately think of Stephen King.)

    I'm going to go on a limb and guess the Stephen King guess was sparked by 'Salem's Lot?

  9. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Cran View Post
    Funny, it makes me think of every second Western story I've ever encountered (watched or read).
    That's exactly what flashed through my mind - particularly those Clint Eastwood 'man with no name' films.


  10. #20
    The general essence of that quote seems pretty correct, but I don't know why it would incite much of an existential crisis. As depressing as it might sound on the surface, everything in life generally boils down into nothing more than a handful of essential components rearranged in different ways. That's kind of where the old adage that there's nothing new under the sun comes from. If we want to painstakingly break everything down to its most basic form, these types of generalizations are unavoidable. In fact, even those two "plots" are really just the one about someone going on a journey. If a stranger comes to town, then I'd imagine he or she is on a journey from their perspective. I believe someone else already mentioned how all of these, and anything conjectured as to the contrary, can be broken down to merely as, "Something happens." Of course, if we're being liberal with how we define "journey" as someone else mentioned, then the story itself is the journey from its beginning to its end. Basically, yeah, the quote has some merit, but I wouldn't let it negatively affect your view on writing or stories or life in general because all any of us are really doing is plodding along to the end. Again, sounds depressing, but that very fact should make the story, the journey from one point to the other, all the more exciting and valuable because the story is what matters most. Without the story, all we have are beginnings and endings and those things are only truly worthwhile because of the context of the greater story. How everything breaks down behind the scenes is just a matter of consequence and not incredibly vital to the overall process of storytelling.

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