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20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them Paperback – Jan 17 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; Second Edition edition (Jan. 17 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582972397
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582972398
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 16.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #323,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Ronald B. Tobias has spent his career as a writer moving from genre to genre, first as a short story writer, then as an author of fiction and nonfiction books and finally as a writer and producer of documentaries for public television. He is currently a professor in the Department of Media and Theatre Arts at Montana State University and the author of The Insider's Guide to Writing for Screen and Television. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.

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First Sentence
The shelves of libraries are stacked with the stories of centuries, but out in the street, the air swarms with newly made fiction. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Thompson on Jan. 24 2004
Format: Paperback
If you've looked inside the book yet then you've noted the twenty master plots that are exposed in this book. So I won't list them here.
For each one there is an example, an analysis of the example and a three-act structure for using the plot. There is also a checklist at the end of each plot so you have some idea what you should be doing to develop this plot in a successful manner.
eg plot 3 the pursuit: the checklist is
* the chase is more important than the people who take part in it
* Make sure there's a real danger of the pursued getting caught
* your pursuer should have a reasonable chance of catching the pursued; they may even catch them momentarily
* rely heavily on physical action
* Your story and your characters should be stimulating, engaging and unique
* Develop your characters and situations against type to avoid cliches
* keep your situations as geographically confined as possible; the smaller the area the greater the tension
* The first dramatic phase should have 3 stages. a) establish the ground rules for the chase b) establish the stakes and c)start the race with a motivating incident
okay this book does a slightly cookbook feel about plot developement, but for those new to the game, what's wrong with getting a little support and help? Consider it a training manual for plotting! And sure you might not agree with the checklists and the manner...but don't you see, that it's getting you thinking about it too! So even if you hate it, you still gain because it pushes you to refute or accept or partially accept what it presents, and this requires effort. Effort creates thought, which leads to understanding and the development of your own ideas! So where's the problem! The only problem is if you're looking for a 'do-it-for-me'...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 18 2003
Format: Paperback
I have three big boxes of books on writing I'm going to sell and just keep this one. I almost didn't buy this book because I don't want to write formula fiction and was put off by the title. But this isn't about formulas -- it's about understanding the dynamics of story and what the reader needs.
It's well written, concise and unexpectedly entertaining. But best of all, it has helped me break down the elements of my novel to better understand what's working and what's not -- and how to fix it. I wish I'd bought it when it first came out. For the writer struggling with plot, this is the book for you.
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Format: Paperback
You could say that this book asks more questions than answers--it is certainly not a soup-to-nuts 'how to write a novel' book. But I found its approach inspiring. That is not to say I dislike 'how to' books like Cleaver's, Stein's or Frey's; I have read them and find them useful.
In 20 Master Plots, Tobias demonstrates the inherent patterns, relationships and expectations imbedded in plot. I think this information is helpful to create something that the modern reader will find engaging. I also recommend highly the writing craft books of Noah Lukeman.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By zen dog on Oct. 28 2003
Format: Paperback
This books starts well, and if you are interested in pursuing plot type #1, Quests, and haven't dissected a plot since high school then I think this is highly recommended. Things start with a very technical approach, giving a useful breakdown of plot's parts and the main types of plot. In his approach to Quests Tobias even uses one or two of the terms that loom so large in his initial over-view.
Unfortunately things swiftly digress and it is not long before the reader is left to establish his own technical descriptions; Tobias meanwhile falls into the traps of most fiction 'how to' books, generalization and ambiguity, for example suggesting sagely over several paragraphs (in Maturation) that anyone interested in writing about adolescents should try to think like one, but offering very little concrete technical guidance to work with.
Anyone expecting a book which examines difficult plotting in depth (Tobias works mostly with fairy tales, which, although paradigmatic, are rarely comperable in their structural intricacies to novel-length fiction) and hoping to witness either a detailed dissection of exemplary plots by great writers or else a highly technical, step-by-step dissection of architypical "master" plots would be better off buying the Cliff Notes to the works of Conrad, because they will not find such revealing stuff here.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 38 reviews
137 of 143 people found the following review helpful
Most excellent book for the aspiring amateur novelist Jan. 24 2004
By Patrick Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you've looked inside the book yet then you've noted the twenty master plots that are exposed in this book. So I won't list them here.
For each one there is an example, an analysis of the example and a three-act structure for using the plot. There is also a checklist at the end of each plot so you have some idea what you should be doing to develop this plot in a successful manner.
eg plot 3 the pursuit: the checklist is
* the chase is more important than the people who take part in it
* Make sure there's a real danger of the pursued getting caught
* your pursuer should have a reasonable chance of catching the pursued; they may even catch them momentarily
* rely heavily on physical action
* Your story and your characters should be stimulating, engaging and unique
* Develop your characters and situations against type to avoid cliches
* keep your situations as geographically confined as possible; the smaller the area the greater the tension
* The first dramatic phase should have 3 stages. a) establish the ground rules for the chase b) establish the stakes and c)start the race with a motivating incident
okay this book does a slightly cookbook feel about plot developement, but for those new to the game, what's wrong with getting a little support and help? Consider it a training manual for plotting! And sure you might not agree with the checklists and the manner...but don't you see, that it's getting you thinking about it too! So even if you hate it, you still gain because it pushes you to refute or accept or partially accept what it presents, and this requires effort. Effort creates thought, which leads to understanding and the development of your own ideas! So where's the problem! The only problem is if you're looking for a 'do-it-for-me'...sorry you miss out here.
Apart from the exposition of each of the 20 plots there are chapters (as listed in the table of contents) involving triangular relationships, structure, motivations, the basics of plotting: the things that are always the same.
Seriously for $10 you get a lot of book. It has some really useful content here. I am an engineer and have written two fictional novels (neither published, since I never realy tried to get them published). Yeah scary huh? A literate engineer! That aside, it appeals to my 'generalize the solution space' nature and make a solution that is readily acceptable, decipherable and accessible (there was once a british engineer who went to the local library, found out the most popular childrens books, analyzed them for the common characteristics and plots and then wrote his own...hey it's ugly but it worked!)
Just remember that there is no substitute for actually writing. Nothing will write for you. It is not a panacea. It won't give you ideas nor will it make you a good wordsmith. It will guide and help you to develop one of the major stumbling blocks in writing: having a story that actually goes somewhere (you just have to be sure you avoid being 'formulaic' and applying a given plot too rigidly- remember it's a guide, not a blueprint!). Great characters doing nothing don't interest too many poeple outside of the literary criticism clique. I'm sure it makes them cringe because one doesn't do these things...circumventing the process of suffering for ones art.
Great value for money, well written, using examples we all know and it's cheap. What more could you want? Definitely 5 stars!
72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Unique idea, a great guide to own, but falls a bit short Dec 18 2004
By Erin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
'20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them' is a well thought out idea that falls a little short in it's delivery, but in the end saves itself through originality.

The first chapter, titled 'Invisible Fiction', sets the mood for what's to come. The author expresses his opinions on plots and the many forms, how they all originate from a top three to be broken down into a 'top 20' for easier following. Chapter two, ' The Lowest Common Plot Denominators', discusses building tension through opposition, the three sections of a story (beginning, middle, and end), and other crucial things a plot requires to stay alive. Chapter 3, 'The Strong Force', is short in length, basically informing the reader what a 'character driven plot is' versus a 'plot driven' one.

Chapter four, 'Deep Structure', focuses on themes and moral arguments, while chapter five, 'Triangles', is an interesting, unique way to see characters and how they interact with each other.

After this, we finally begin the '20 plots', each divided by chapter. Each goes through all three 'acts' of the plot (again: beginning, middle, end), ending with a checklist to recap all that has been learned.

The wrap up chapter, 'Parting Shots', reminds you that the book is not a guide etched in stone and that rules are made to be broken. It's also stated that many times a plot is a mixture of two or more basic '20 Master Plots'.

At 232 pages, this book covers quite a bit. I was enthused as the sections, and recognized many of the 'patterns', but was left wanting in other areas. The information was useful, but if you read it straight through, many of the plot types repeat the same thing and it becomes redundant and dull. Also, some held examples of other novels and stories to illustrate what the author meant. I loved this; it enabled me to get a firmer grasp on things. Unfortunitely many of the plots don't have as many examples, or none at all, and I missed it when they did.

Wrapping up, this is a great resource guide for writers. If you have trouble with plotting, pick this up for a reasonable price. Heck, even if you don't, still pick it up for there are things out there you may not know about yet. On the downside it wasn't the most interesting thing to read, was a bit redundant, other times not being consistent enough.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Fun to read and very helpful -- an unexpected find! March 18 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have three big boxes of books on writing I'm going to sell and just keep this one. I almost didn't buy this book because I don't want to write formula fiction and was put off by the title. But this isn't about formulas -- it's about understanding the dynamics of story and what the reader needs.
It's well written, concise and unexpectedly entertaining. But best of all, it has helped me break down the elements of my novel to better understand what's working and what's not -- and how to fix it. I wish I'd bought it when it first came out. For the writer struggling with plot, this is the book for you.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A nice survey of plots. Will get you started Feb. 19 2006
By Ray Salemi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been working on a mystery novel and I picked up 20 Master Plots to help me structure the story. Since I've already got my basic plot (Mystery) I was able to use the book to help me make sure that I had my ducks in a row.

However, the book will not go much deeper than getting you started in any master plot type. It essentially delivers a magazine article about every plot type -- a great starting place.

The book is a great reference book and should sit in the writers library. From there it will deliver wisdom in 10-minute shots and get you going on any story.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Now I can sit down at my computer and KNOW I'll be able to write a story May 30 2010
By C. Yu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a masterwork. It's taught me how to write a story with an actual plot. Now I can sit down at the computer with a tiny seed of an idea and *know* that I'll be able to grow it into a competent story.

That's kind of amazing.

I disagree with the few criticisms I've read. I didn't think it was particularly repetitive. And if it was repetitive here and there, I didn't think it was a problem. I read each chapter twice anyway; I mean, it's a workbook, not a quick read. I wrote a complete story for each plot type. I also didn't think the author was condescending regarding popular fiction. He seemed to find more value in literary fiction <yawn> than I do, but hey, maybe his insights will make literary fiction less boring if I ever read any again. Seriously, even if you're not a writer, this book is worthwhile for the way it'll help you better appreciate your reading.

I'll admit, I was disappointed that the book didn't give me a cookie cutter formula that I could create a book around. Instead, the author taught me how to analyze and understand plots and create my own. It's like a parable: A woman buys something on Amazon seeking one foolish impossible thing and ends up with something so much more valuable than she imagined. She went to Amazon not even knowing what she lacked; then she bought this book that helped her understand what she needed and then helped her achieve it on her own.

This is an absolute standout book. Probably one of the most significant books I'll read in my life. The NEXT time I get on the NYT bestsellers list (hehe, I'm not being facetious, I took one of the pictures in How to Take Over Teh Wurld: A LOLcat Guide 2 Winning 'wuz awsome. srsly!) I'm gonna track down this author and send him a present!
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I wanted to add that in May I wrote one story for each of the 20 plots as an exercise. In July I finally got around to sending out some submissions. Now it's the beginning of August and I've been published twice on the Internet and four more stories are scheduled to be published. Plus, one of my stories was purchased by two different anthologies. Thank you, Mr. Tobias! [...]


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