I have been reading the draft of my Life Story, and while it is a page-turner in some places, overall it has a meandering, hackneyed, early-draft-stages-of-Plan-9-From-Outer-Space-kind-of-bad plot, only far less interesting. It has everything: head-scratching randomness, a disconnect between cause and effect, unintentionally funny scenes and terrible dialogue, not to mention bad lighting, wooden performances and a preponderance of continuity errors.
I set my draft Life Story down about halfway through, and watched The Maltese Falcon on TCM instead. Humphrey Bogart! I love his chops, but if that gargoyle can be a movie star, there’s hope for any of us.
While I don’t expect my life to have the tight plotting of a film or short story, I believe that we can manufacture drama and conflict in a positive way. Not bad drama; he said/she said, restraining order, reality show drama. Some people are great at generating conflict for it’s own sake. We call them teenagers.
I’m talking about good drama, compelling drama, which comes from someone Aspiring, Stumbling, Falling, Getting Up, and Achieving a Goal (or Failing Nobly) despite all odds, despite naysayers, despite Obstacles, fears and weaknessess. You cannot Overcome if you don’t Challenge yourself by accepting the Call to Adventure.
First, you have to determine what kind of plot you’re working with now, and what kind of plot you’d like to create. These days, my life reads like one of those network sitcoms with the clueless, immature dad who bumbles his way through very mundane situations; going to the DMV, getting a proctology exam, and so forth. Except, there’s no laugh track, so Rachel doesn’t have a cue to tell her when to laugh at my Antics. She thinks Phil Dunphy on Modern Family is hilarious, but despite our similarities, she doesn’t especially want to be married to him.
I’d prefer a Life Story that is more Dramatic, punctuated by episodes of Heroic Accomplishment in the face of Overwhelming Odds. I feel like a bit more Adventure would balance out the wisecracks, making me less Homer Simpson and more Han Solo.
So, what kind of plot should I choose… Time to recall my Myth and Folklore and Literature background.
According to Christopher Booker, in The Seven Basic Plots, there are, wait for it… seven basic plots in literature. Booker, like Joseph Campbell, explores Jungian archetypes and elements of traditional myth and folklore.
Here are Booker’s seven plots:
1. Overcoming the Monster: Our Hero learns of a great evil threatening the land, and sets out to destroy it. Examples: Beowolf, or, if you prefer, Ghostbusters.
2. Rags to Riches: Our Hero overcomes his station to win fame, wealth, and/or the perfect mate. Examples: Annie, Cinderella, Rocky.
3. The Quest: Our Hero learns of a great MacGuffin or talisman that he desperately wants to find, and sets out to find it, usually with companions. The Maltese Falcon, if you like deadpan gargoyles, or Lord of the Rings, if you like CGI gargoyles.
4. Voyage and Return: Our Hero heads journeys to a magic land with its own set of rules, ultimately triumphs and returns home self-actualized. The Odyssey, Wizard of Oz.
5. Comedy: Our Hero and Our Heroine are destined to get together, but a dark force is preventing them from doing so. A series of events leads to the victory of love over the dark forces, and everyone is revealed to be who they truly are. Prestige Example: Twelfth Night (or Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, etc. ad bardeum). Lowbrow Example: Something About Mary.
6. Tragedy: The opposite of the Overcoming the Monster plot. The Villian is the protagonist, and his defeat frees the land from his evil influence. Examples: MacBeth, Scarface.
7. Rebirth: Like the Tragedy plot, but our Protagonist manages to realize his error before it’s too late, and repents to avoid inevitable defeat. Examples: A Christmas Carol, Star Wars trilogy
Of course, the best stories synthesize two or more of these plots. Also, episodic stories can evolve over time from one genre to another. So I’m leaving an out if I want to change my mind and rewrite the damn thing.
For my purposes, I am choosing to draft a story that begins in media res, seeing as how I’m entering what can only be described as a Mid-Life Crisis. Also, while I have loner tendencies, I really enjoy the company of others. And my ultimate goal is to come out of this Journey transformed.
So, at the draft stage, I’m choosing to write a Quest story, one which includes traveling Companions, the pursuit of a MacGuffin, and a clearly defined Goal. This story will likely include elements of Comedy, Tragedy, Rebirth, Overcoming the Monster, Voyage and Return, and hopefully concludes as a Rags to Riches tale.
I want more Adventure, more Romance (watch out Wifey), more scenic locales, more at stake. The drama will present itself in the form of Obstacles, Villains, and other kinds of internal and external Conflict.
Clearly, my Quest involves a fair bit of Insanity, trying to break into Hollywood from my remote Outpost, which is why I chose Don Quixote as my totem (see Quest Progress page).
For all who are joining me as my Traveling Companions, ask yourself, what kind of story am I living? What kind of story am I going to write for myself going forward? Please tell me about your plot in the comments link below.