Archive for July, 2022

Master Plot Series: Tragedy

Buckle up, squiders. This week we’re talking about the plot archetype of Tragedy, which is perhaps the largest and most encompassing of all the plot archetypes.

7 Plot: Tragedy
20 Plots: Forbidden Love, Wretched Excess, Descension
36 Plots: Involuntary Crimes of Love, Crimes of Love, Adultery, Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One, Disaster, Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune, Murderous Adultery, Madness, Mistaken Jealousy, Remorse, Fatal Imprudence, Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized, Erroneous Judgment, Loss of Loved Ones

(Man, some of those 36 plots are quite wordy. Also oddly specific. Doesn’t mean I can’t immediately think of some stories off the top of my head, though.)

Tragedy is generally about when things go wrong. Critical character flaws, overreach of egotism, fate gone bad, etc. Pretty much every cautionary tale falls into Tragedy. The exploration of our flaws, and where they can lead us, is the backbone of this archetype.

Or, if we want to be really simple, it’s the opposite of Comedy. Or we can say it’s any story where things end badly, or where the character fails to reach their goal.

Examples: Othello, Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet (lots of Shakespeare), Anna Karenina, Dr. Faustus, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Citizen Kane, Madame Bovary, etc., etc., et al.

Moving on to our 20 Plots, we have Forbidden Love up first, which we talked about a little bit last week. Forbidden Love stories have lovers from different cultures, circumstances, already being married, etc.–basically some structure of society keeping them apart. While you can have a happy ending for this sort of story, more often they end in disaster, ala Romeo and Juliet.

Wretched Excess is where the main character lives outside societal norms, normally in a hedonistic sort of way, which eventually leads to their downfall. I want to say Great Gatsby falls into this category. And Descension is related, where the main character begins the story in a good place and everything goes downhill over the course of the story (normally due to their own actions or faults).

Now, there’s a veritable mountain of 36 plots, so we’re going to run through them pretty quick for our own sanity. (14! Which is almost half, good lord.) Involuntary Crimes of Love is where one lover does something bad (accidentally) because of their love (killing a rival, accidentally marrying their mother, killing someone blocking their love, etc.) and then the story goes on to deal with the consequences. (Lots of death in these sorts of stories.) Crimes of Love is essentially the same as Forbidden Love, where some taboo is broken because of their love. Adultery is kind of a specific form of Forbidden Love, where one or both of the lovers are already in a relationship, and Murderous Adultery is much the same, with the added fun of trying to or actually killing the spouse/partner. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One is the other side of this, where the protagonist discovers their loved one has done something bad, though this is not necessarily related to relationships (can be stealing something, killing someone, etc.).

Disaster is where someone or something in power falls from it. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune is where bad luck or fate causes something terrible to happen to the protagonist (can be used as an inciting incident in combination with other archetypes). Uh, where are we? Oh yeah. Madness is where the protagonist is facing someone/something who is acting without reason (not the protagonist descending into madness necessarily, though those stories can fall into this category). Horror stories often fall into this archetype. Mistaken Jealousy is where a character receives misinformation or interprets something wrong and makes terrible mistakes based on that.

Remorse is where someone has made a mistake and works to redeem themselves. Fatal Impudence is similar to Wretched Excess where arrogance causes the character to lose everything. Slaying of a Kinsmen Unrecognized is, as the name implies, where a character kills a family member or loved one without realizing it (Oedipus, etc.). Erroneous Judgment is where the protagonist has been wrongly accused of some sort of crime, or may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And, finally, Loss of Loved Ones is where the character witnesses the death of a loved one (or ones), often through said loved one(s) being murdered.

Whew. Did you make it through that okay, squiders? It’s a lot. A lot of awful, awful archetypes.

For the characters.

Next week we hit our last of the big 7 (Rebirth), but we’ll have three weeks past that, bwhahahaha.

Favorite tragedy archetypes and stories, squiders?


WriYe and Cliffhangers

How’s it going, squiders? I spent an hour or so earlier going over the timing of my novella that’s due back for copyediting at the end of the month. I had some notes from the last phase of editing where the editor was confused about how much time had passed, so I’m figuring things out in detail so I can clarify it. (And I figured out that I need to move a chapter out a day, because my MC goes to a class she doesn’t have that day, whoops.) It’s pretty time consuming, but I do have to do it every book so it’s not unexpected. Not because my timelines tend to get messed up, but just because I find it so useful as an editing tool.

Anyway, let’s do this month’s WriYe prompt.

For July: Feelings on cliffhangers? Best cliffhanger you’ve written.

I don’t know that I have any strong feelings about cliffhangers. I think they’re a tool, like any other, and that there are different ways to go about using them. I do think you can overdo them. You ever read a book that just makes you anxious continuously? A lot of times, that’s because the characters never get any moment to rest, and sometimes that can be because there’s too many cliffhangers.

I also think that, if your plot is tight enough, you don’t need that many cliffhangers. The questions you’ve built into the story, and the characters you’ve created, can pull the reader along without having to resort to cheap tricks. But they do have their place, and they can be effective.

I don’t know that I use them that often in my own writing. Or perhaps I tend to use a more subtle version, where I end a chapter with a question. But, again, you can’t do that all the time. Variety is the spice of life. And I don’t tend to write a lot of multi-book or multi-section stories, so really big cliffhangers, ones that would pull people to the next book or the next installment, are less useful for me.

That being said, I do think the cliffhanger at the end of the second part of my four-part serial Deep and Blue (the last part went up in April) is pretty dang good.

What do you think, squiders? Any thoughts on cliffhangers? Favorites?

Master Plot Series: Comedy

Good morning, squiders! I forgot yesterday was Thursday, but I’ve figured it out. This week we’ll be discussing the plot archetype of Comedy.

7 Plots: Comedy
20 Plots: Love
36 Plots: Obstacles to Love, An Enemy Loved

Don’t be confused my friends! In this case we’re talking the broader definition of comedy rather than just “make you laugh” comedy. (Just like romantic fiction originally and arguably still means fiction based on emotions, primarily as a reaction to things like the Industrial Revolution, and not just romance.) In this definition, comedies always have happy endings, and often include dramatic irony and confusion, often within relationships. These stories are often light, and can contain humor and satire.

Examples: A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pride and Prejudice, every RomCom ever

Since this particular definition of comedy heavily leans on confusion within relationships, it’s not really surprising that the associated 20 Plots plot is Love. This is your basic romance definition–two people meet and overcome obstacles to reach their happily ever after (or happily for now). Unlike the Comedy archetype, however, the Love archetype does not have to have a happy ending (though it typically does). Wuthering Heights is an example of the Love archetype, and if you’ve ever read it you know that nobody is ever happy in that book.

(I read Wuthering Heights because I kept seeing it mentioned in other books and figured I’d better figure out what the fuss was about.)

Our 36 Plots for this week are Obstacles to Love and An Enemy Loved. Obstacles to Love is basically where there is something keeping two lovers from getting together, which is a fairly standard trope in romance novels. Interestingly, I see Romeo and Juliet listed as an example for this archetype, but that story goes along with a different 20 Plot archetype–that of Forbidden Love, which we’ll talk about when we talk about the Tragedy archetype.

An Enemy Loved is a little more complicated, and doesn’t focus on the relationship as much as the…effects of the relationship, shall we say. There’s three people in An Enemy Loved story: two enemies and then a third character that connects them. So, for example, you have two best friends, but one best friend is dating someone who used to bully the other best friend, and so there’s conflict stemming from that. Again, this is lacking the happy ending that the Comedy archetype needs, but as we’ve discussed previously, each of these lists of archetypes divides things up a little differently and don’t tend to match exactly.

If they did, hey, there wouldn’t be more than one list.

Favorite comedy stories, squiders? Thoughts about how the associated 20/36 Plot archetypes don’t really match the Comedy archetype (though they can, depending on the story)? Thoughts on Wuthering Heights?

The Well Runneth Dry

Good morning, squiders! I started this entry last Tuesday which tells you how my executive functioning has been lately.

Every month I send out short stories. Basically I have a big spreadsheet, and it lists the story, the market, acceptance/rejection, any notes I received from the editor, how long said market turned around a response, etc. I color code stories too (green means acceptance, yellow means the story was rejected from its last market, orange means a story needs attention, either a determination to pull it off of rotation or a follow-up with the market if it’s been too long) so I can tell, at a glance, where each story is.

Anyway, I realized this time around that I’ve only got 5 short stories on rotation right now.

I would swear that I had a good dozen at one point. Maybe more.

Now, admittedly, five is a lot more doable than 12. Less markets to have to research each month, less things to keep track of. And my oldest story that I had on rotation sold and was published this year (Blackened Glass, diet milk April ’22 issue), so that’s good too.

(Though I’ve probably taken as many stories out of rotation for being unpublishable as I have sold stories, honestly.)

But what this does mean, really? It means I haven’t been writing short stories to put out there. I don’t think a single thing I’m submitting was written in the past year.

That’s not great, and paired with my issues with getting my short story done for TDP this month (STILL not done, and I’ve written a whole other story and figured out how to fix the first one, though one or the other BETTER be done before this post goes live, or I will set something on fire), does little for my confidence.

Last year (was it last year? oh god), if you recall, I was doing a prompt challenge for myself, where every month I picked three random Pinterest pins of mine (one each from the character, setting, and prompt boards) and wrote a short story with them. Just for practice. It might be worth it to go back through there and see if anything’s usable, but the whole point of the exercise was just to practice. To write not for publication.

Is this actually a problem? Not sure. Am I accomplishing my goals with short stories? In the great scheme of things, they’re probably pretty far down the list of things I should be focusing on.

But I have noticed it, and being aware of potential issues is the first step to fixing them, so. There we are.

How are you doing, squiders? Tips on rebooting your brain when it’s gone into full ADHD malfunctioning mode?

Master Plot Series: Voyage and Return

Good morning, squiders! This week we’re looking at our fourth master plot, that of Voyage and Return.

7 Plots: Voyage and Return
20 Plots: Adventure, Metamorphosis
36 Plots: n/a

Again, no related 36 plots this week. Iiiiiinteresting.

Voyage and Return at first glance seems like it might be pretty similar to The Quest archetype we looked at last week, though there are differences. The Quest is mostly focused on the goal (save the princess, rescue your love, find the treasure) whereas Voyage and Return focuses more on your setting. Basically, the Voyage and Return archetype involves a character who finds themselves in a strange, new world, and who eventually returns home.

Examples of Voyage and Return: Alice in Wonderland, Cast Away, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Magicians, The Hobbit, Gulliver’s Travels, Neverwhere, The Wizard of Oz

(Side note: I apparently read a lot of this type of story.)

The idea is that the character learns new lessons that they can only learn by encountering this new world (which, to be completely clear, does not have to be a fantasy world, though it is a common fantasy trope), which they can then apply to their normal life once they return.

In our 20 Plots list we have Adventure and Metamorphosis (though, arguably, Voyage and Return requires both of these, but I digress). Adventure is very similar to Quest (20 plot version), except, like I mentioned before, the focus is not on the end goal of the journey. However, in this case, adventure is often just for adventure’s sake. The character doesn’t actually need to change or grow in any way. Think of the sword and sorcery books of the mid-1900s.

Metamorphosis, like the name implies, involves the character going through a major change of some sort–physically, emotionally, spiritually, or a combination of the aforementioned. This archetype does often include a fantasy element of some sort. In many stories in this archetype, the character is changed, and then is changed back at the end to their original self, having learned lessons while in their other form or having accomplished something that could only be done while they were changed.

Well, that’s this week’s archetype! We’re about halfway done! How are you guys feeling about the series? What’s your favorite Voyage and Return story?

Master Plot Series: The Quest

Buckle up, squiders. Here we go. The Plot Archetype. The one everyone thinks of when they think of master plots and plot archetypes. What the Hero’s Journey is patterned after. THE QUEST.

7 Plots: The Quest
20 Plots: The Quest, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, The Riddle
36 Plots: Ambition, Recovery of a Lost One, Pursuit, Deliverance, Abduction, Enigma

(As a note, the 36 plots, in the taxonomy I’m using, developed by Stephen R. Southard, link to the 20 plots rather than the 7 plots. So he actually includes Recovery of a Lost One as both a The Quest connection and a Rescue connection. Enigma links to The Riddle. And so forth.)

As the name suggests, the protagonist, either on their own or because fate dictates it, sets out on a long journey to rescue someone/find something/fall in love, etc., and along the way finds new companions, discovers things about themselves, overcomes challenges, and is usually ultimately successful.

Examples: The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, Finding Nemo, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Quest is actually the first on the list of 20 plots, which tells you something. It’s very similar to the 7 plot definition of the Quest, though expressed more vaguely, as someone who is searching for something. In the 36 plots, Ambition and Recovery of a Lost One are linked to The Quest (20 plots version). We talked briefly last week about Ambition as a tenuous link to the Rags to Riches archetype, but as a reminder, the Ambition archetype is where someone seeks something (usually to better themselves), though there is sometimes also a rival searching for that same thing. (Think, if you will, Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones is trying to find the Ark before the Nazis do.) Recovery of a Loved One is, as it sounds, a story where the quest is to recover a loved one specifically, such as in Finding Nemo.

Our next 20 Plot is Pursuit. This link is a little tenuous for me. Pursuit is where the protagonist is trying to catch someone, or is fleeing from someone trying to catch them. Trying to catch someone feels more Quest archetype to me (searching for a person), and I guess you could argue that fleeing is searching for, oh, freedom or safety or something along those lines. The main point of the Pursuit archetype is the chase. Examples of the Pursuit archetype are things like The Hunt for Red October, Catch Me if You Can, Terminator, and I’m sure some books that are not coming to mind at the moment. Likewise, the 36 Plot version of Pursuit involves a chase, though it focuses more on someone fleeing specifically from a misunderstood conflict, such as Les Misérables or The Fugitive.

Onward to Rescue, which fits better. This can be defined as a quest to retrieve a person (or pet, I suppose). I don’t think I need to define this one too deeply–we all know what rescue means. Examples: The Rescuers (and Rescuers Down Under), Taken, etc. The 36 Plots connected are Deliverance, Abduction, and Recovery of a Loved One (again, for obvious reasons). We’ve talked about Recovery of a Loved One up above. Deliverance is where, hey, someone is delivered from a punishment. In other words, they’re rescued. (The protagonist is doing the rescuing.) Abduction is the opposite–where someone is taken. (Though they may be rescued in the end.)

Escape doesn’t have a 36 Plot link. In an escape plot, the protagonist is trying to escape (eyyyy) a situation. Think every prison break movie ever. Escapes that happen near the beginning or middle of the story also count. In these cases, the rest of the story often includes the challenges in trying to get to safety.

Lastly, we have the Riddle and the associated 36 Plot Enigma. The Riddle includes following clues and solving puzzles to find something or solve a mystery. (Think The Da Vinci Code.) The Enigma is similar but different, where the protagonist is challenged with a riddle or some other puzzle which they must solve (or they get eaten, I suppose). More Oedipus and the Sphinx than an ongoing thing.

I can understand why the taxonomy puts The Riddle/The Enigma here, as riddles and other puzzles are often part of Quest stories. I will note, however, that Booker (the 7 plot guy) actually has 9 plots–he just doesn’t like 2 of them. One of those two is “Mystery”–which would also be a good master plot to match The Riddle and the Enigma to.

All right, squiders! That’s The Quest and all its sundry and variations. What are your favorite quest stories?

Short Story Frustrations

GUYS I am so frustrated

I’ve always prided myself on being the sort of person who can put out a story when it’s called for, whether a spot needs filling in an anthology or what have you. That I can put out a solid story (not necessarily amazing, but solid) when it’s called for, and that it will be on topic, within the word count guidelines, and done on time.

Which is why I’m going insane right now.

I had a short story due on the first. Nothing special, nothing long–basically whatever I want, about 1.5K to 2K words. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as the kids say.

Except apparently not.

When I accepted this deadline I thought for sure I’d get some great story ideas while I was in Scotland. Castles! Moors! Faerie legends!

But I didn’t. I learned a lot of neat things, but the best I got was the premise for a story. And then, once we got home I tried to milk said premise into a story, but mostly I got set-up, and backstory, and I couldn’t figure out an actual story to go along with it, at least not one that could be done as a short story.

I talked to my spouse about my story issues, and he gave me a different premise that I thought I’d gotten built up into enough story to get somewhere, but I’ve written like 4K on said story and it’s just…bad.

Like, I know that you can’t write something publishable every time, and it’s okay to throw stories that aren’t working away, but I am just so frustrated at this point. Frustrated that I’m behind schedule, and that I can’t get a story to gel, and that I spent so much time writing just to have nothing to show for it.

Now, there’s some leeway on the deadline, so I should be okay, but I’ve got to get my act together. I’m going to read back through what I have and see if it’s salvageable, but I may need to start all over. Yay.

Wish me luck, squiders. I definitely need it.