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Non-sense question about plot structures


Suppose then you have an story in your mind. Then, to write down this finite series of events, you have to translate your imagination into the paper. This process isn't trivial, of course and plot are just one of the "underlying structures" you may want (or, in most of the cases, should have) to use.

Now, again, suppose then you have an story in your mind; is the story of a hero(ine). You, then, write your story with the aid of, for instance, Blake Snyder beat sheet [1] and nothing more.

Now, by definition, you have a particular plot structure on your story. But, as a some sort of "definition" of a hero(ine) story, you can in fact point out a hero's journey plot structure as well (I think). So, the writer used [1] but the story also have, "canonically", the hero's journey structure.

My question is: suppose that you have a story which you wrote with the aid of a plot structure A. But you realize that and another plot structure B could be used as well. The story must be independent of plot structure (Just like a physical phenomena must be independent of reference frame)?

[1] https://chsenglishap4.weebly.com/uploads/2/2/5/7/2257880/blakesnyderbeatsheet-explained.pdf

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/q/48612. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.


3 answers


Every story is different (or it is just plagiarism); "plot structures" come from generalizing stories and the types of events that occur in them.

There are serious analysts that claim there are only three plot structures, and sure enough you can jam every kind of story into them. Others claim there are 12, or 21, or 32 plots.

A story and its plot is like the flesh on a skeleton. The story is not independent of the plot structure, just like my body is not independent of my skeleton. Without my skeleton, I'd be as shapeless (and dead) as a bag of liquid.

It may be that my body shape could be supported by other, very similar skeletons: My brother's skeleton; my father's (As a teen I looked like a twin of my father at the same age, in nearly every photo, it's kind of eerie to see yourself in the past like that).

The same thing for stories. If you generalize enough (lose enough detail) you can claim there are only 12 kinds of passenger cars on the road, but that doesn't make the car (=story) independent of its classification as pickup truck (=plot). It still has to do certain things and work in a certain way in order to be considered a pickup truck, and those are different than cars classified as "sports car".

The story is not independent of the plot.

In fact, Blake Snyder's "beat sheet" may have been derived from Joseph Campbell's earlier "Hero's Journey", which itself was derived by studying and generalizing the similarities between extant (and usually ancient) Hero myths from many cultures. In fact the antiquity of such myths is a testament to their popularity, and likely indicates that what we humans consider a "good hero story" is inherent to us, it can transcend language, culture, politics and many thousands of years.

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It is worth observing that some objects have literal structural elements. Buildings, for instance, have a network of load bearing members that allow the building to stand up, as well as countless partitions and decorations that make up the spaces that you largely experience. The shape of those spaces is conditioned in some ways by the structural members, even if you can't see them. But it is also conditioned by all the non-structural elements as well.

When we say that a story has structure, we are speaking only by analogy. There are no hidden structural elements in a story. There are only words describing thoughts and incidents. Sometimes the sequence of words holds the interest of the reader over the course of several hours reading, and sometimes it does not.

If we ask why some books hold attention and some to not, one answer it to point to certain common patterns found in books that do hold attention (and, presumably, missing in those that do not). These we call, by analogy, structure. But any such structure is a theoretical explanation of why the story works. There is nothing you can point to and say, that is a structural member and that is not.

So, given a book that is capable of holding the reader's attention, and given one or more theories of story structure, it is quite possible, and even likely, that the book can be shown to fit each of the theorized structures.

The interesting cases, actually, are the ones where this is not the case, the ones were the book is undoubtedly able to hold the attention of many readers, and yet does not fit some, or even any, of the theorized structures.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in the "hero's journey" structure, but there are many critics who point out that there are undoubtedly successful works that it does not seem to fit. (Does it fit Remains of the Day, for instance?)

What are we to make of the fact that is is hard to get everyone to agree on a definition of story structure? Is the whole notion bogus? Are there many different structures that can work (meaning that failure to follow any one of them is no proof against a particular work being successful? We really don't know for certain.

But if you have a story that holds the reader's attention, it really does not matter a scrap if it fits one theory of structure, or several, or none.

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I would say Plot Structures are narrative models. They can be used in writing, editing, and critiquing plots. I see no reason for them to be mutually exclusive from each other if the goal is providing a way to think about sequences of events. That means that many plot structures could easily apply to your story.

For example, I may realize that I've built up a mystery subplot, but the reveal isn't very satisfying. So I would look for structures/models for mystery plots and use them to diagnose why my story is misfiring (am I missing a step? Or did I give too much information?)

Personally, I gave up on using plot structures to draft stories; the addditional process makes the events feel too predictable and it kills my creativity. I do use them in editing though. Once everything is on the page, I find it makes more sense for me to refer back to the models as a goal so I can add more emphasis to one thing, repurpose another scene, etc.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/48655. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.