Does using a story device guide our work or hamper our creativity?
In many books and most movies, something will happen about three-fourths of the way through. With the desired goal within reach, a roadblock pops up to thwart our protagonist’s progress. While this is sometimes an ingenious plot twist, too often the problem seems contrived, predictable, or avoidable. But maybe I’m overly critical because I expect it to happen, and I wish it wouldn’t.
The reality is that this plot development is both intentional and prescribed. It’s part of a formula, a well-honed and recommended part of a blueprint for producing a compelling story. And I don’t like it.
I know it’s going to happen. I just don’t know what it will be—at least not usually. I’m braced for it and irritated by it. This plot twist doesn’t surprise me, at least not in the big scope of things. What does surprise me is when it doesn’t happen, which is rare.
If you study fiction writing you have likely heard about the seven basic plots, the three-act structure, the story grid, the twelve stages of the hero’s journey, the eight-point arc, and so forth.
Maybe I’m not experienced enough in fiction writing to know what I’m talking about, but these models seem to restrict creativity and stifle a truly good story. I don’t want to follow a formula when I write; I just want to create an interesting story.
I don’t care which of the seven basic plots my story falls into, if I hit the prescribed marks at the ideal points, or if I can check off each item on someone’s must-have list of requirements.
When I write a story I know the beginning and write to reach the end, which I know before I start (though I’m open to it changing). What happens in between unfolds organically and isn’t constrained by a formula, grid, or blueprint.
Yes, I could follow one of these devices and end up with a good story that will please most readers, but I think I can disregard them and produce a better result that will please even more.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.