20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
20 Master Plots and How to Build Them (1993) by Ronald B. Tobias is an exceptional guide for any writer considering a more in-depth and conscious approach to storytelling and story-building.
One of the nice perks of this book is that Tobias includes quotes by other authors to introduce the chapters; for example, to start the chapter on Quest, there is a quote by Thomas Hardy: “While many things are too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened” (pg 71). And Tobias does reveal some strange facts along the way.
What I found most useful in the dissection of these 20 plots were the examples Tobias provides when explaining the story in a three act manner (as in beginning, middle, and end).
In Master Plot 12: Transformation, Tobias breaks down Chekhov’s “The Kiss” and how Lt. Ryabovich is internally transformed when a mysterious woman at a party mistakes him for another man and kisses him before running off in embarrassment and leaves the protagonist profoundly impacted by the event. Most of the plots, like the one in Transformation, are broken down by dramatic phases.
“Lt. Ryabovich is stunned. The kiss penetrates him to the core… This is the heart of the first dramatic phase: the incident that starts the change in the protagonist’s life… In the second dramatic phase we see the full effects of the transforming incident. We might better describe the transforming incident as an inciting incident, because it begins the process of change in the protagonist.
It’s an internal process, an expression of the human mind,” and when Lt. Ryabovich cries out, “How stupid it all is!” in the end of the story, Tobias explains that “the clarifying incident of the third dramatic phase allows the protagonist true growth. Ryabovich is sadder but wiser for his experience. Oftentimes that is the lesson of life itself: that sadness comes with greater wisdom” (pgs 186-188). Sadness comes with greater wisdom. How true. How true.
Tobias also sheds some light on more historical aspects of storytelling that I had not been aware of before. For instance, Tobias explains how some of the great writers often stole plots and recycled them, albeit transforming them into even great stories.
The best example is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “The first written version of Romeo and Juliet appeared in 1476,” writes Tobias, “more than a hundred years before Shakespeare wrote his play. In fact, Shakespeare’s version is the fourth, and it wasn’t the last.
Gounod made it into an opera and Jean Anouilh wrote a bitter and realistic version of it called Romeo and Jeanette” (pg 217). Romeo and Jeanette? Strange indeed. But the substance of plot does not make a great or memorable story. Alas, that is left in the hands of the writer and her talent and vision and mastery over the language.
Overall, 20 Master Plots is highly educational and a must read for any writer and/or serious reader that desires a deeper understanding on how to craft a successful story or how to better interpret the stories being conveyed.
A strong recommend.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
A TIME TO FORGET IN EAST BERLIN
BREW Book Excellence Award Winner
BREW Readers’ Choice Award Winner
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
~ Ian Skewis, Associate Editor for Bloodhound Books, & author of best-selling novel A Murder of Crows (2017)
“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
~ Lone Star Literary Life Magazine
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
~ Matthew Harffy, prolific writer & best-selling historical fiction author of the “Bernicia Chronicles” series
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…”
“Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.”
“There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
~ Lone Star Literary Life Magazine
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
This is my good friend, Nicolasa (Nico) Murillo, CRC, who is a professional chef & a wellness mentor. I’ve known her since childhood & I’m honored to share her story with you. In life, we all have ups & downs, some far more extreme than others. Much like in Canada, in America, the legalization of marijuana has become a national movement, which includes safe & legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use & research for all.
“This is a wellness movement,” Nico explains. The wellness movement is focused on three specific areas: information, encouragement, & accountability.
In these stressful & unprecedented times, it makes good sense to promote & encourage the state or condition of being in good physical & mental health.
To learn more you can visit: Americans For Safe Access & Texans for Safe Access, ASA (if you are in Texas).
The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.
TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.
Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.
Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis
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