Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: 20 Master Plots (and how to build them)

King Solomon once lamented:  "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun"  (Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV).

If this is true, then today's writers face a daunting task in getting published, especially if their stories are viewed as mere regurgitations of older tales.  However, the reason why such tried & true narratives remain popular is because they've resonated with people since the beginning of recorded history--and probably long before cuneiform was scratched on to clay tablets.

Ronald Tobias, author of 20 Master Plots (and how to build them) settled on 20 "best selling" plots to help writers strike the right chord with potential readers.  The first 6 chapters of 20 Master Plots... deals with the dynamics that make a compelling story, such as the 3-act play, increasing the level of conflict in each act and establishing relationship triangles, (or quadrilaterals, or whatever), just to name a few.

The remaining chapters, minus the last "Parting Shots" chapter, go into detail of each plot type.  So this book doesn't have to be read cover-to-cover if you already know, or at least have a good idea where your story fits in.  Each of these plot chapters run from 3-13 pages and discusses key elements of the protagonist, the antagonist and the structure of each act, along a short checklist at the end.

So where does your story fit?  It could be:  Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Revenge, The Riddle, Rivalry, Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascenscion and Descension. 

I found 20 Master be an enjoyable and informative, although I thought the actual plot chapters more interesting to read.  I give this book a solid 4-stars and makes an excellent reference book for plot structure.  Ten other reviewers on also rated Tobias' work with 4-stars, while 18 others liked the book better than we did and awarded 20 Master Plots...with 5-stars.  However, not everyone is happy with Tobias's work.  Two reviewers give the book 3-stars, while 4 give it 2-stars and another 4 bestow a mere single star each. 

These detractors feel the book is an incomplete guide, that's poorly written in an arrogant tone and that better "how to" books on writing are available.  One reviewer even has an issue with what he calls "pronoun equality," that is using "he" and "she" interchangibly.

I stand by my rating.  I expected 20 Master Plots... to be a general guide on story structure and Mr. Tobias didn't dissappoint me.'s page on 20 Master Plots...:

The book is available in paperback through F+W Publications:

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