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.
And 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.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5