Call Me Ishmael
George Polti put the number at 36. He insisted that there are exactly thirty-six dramatic situations.
1. Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
9. Daring Enterprise
11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
17. Fatal Imprudence
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother, sister, etc.)
19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
20. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
31. Conflict with a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgement
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones.
Foster-Harris said there are three – “Happy Ending” – “Unhappy Ending” – and the “Literary Plot”
Jessamyn West listed out seven.
[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion
Ronald Tobias says there are twenty master plots.
As for me, these are interesting ideas and a great starting point to come up with inspiration, but not really practical when the deadline is looming and the mind is empty and the panic is rising.
So, in my “Spare Time” I have started to make a list of short story ideas or plots or basic structures or prompts or whatever. I decided to come up with a number first instead of doing the list first and then counting. Makes more sense to me.
I picked a nice round number – one hundred. So, in my notebook(s) that I carry around, every now and then I’ll think of a new one, write it down and give it a number. I’m only up to sixty six now, so I better get crackin.’
1 Revenge Story – must have downtrodden victim taking revenge on the person/people responsible for keeping him down.
2 Love Triangle – Requires a somewhat passive follower – yet very desirable- character has to choose between 2 pursuers.
3 Someone isn’t what they seem. On the surface a benevolent character turns out to be a monster underneath.
4 Wakes up to the man. Someone, probably a youth, realizes the hopeless, soul-crushing nature of existence – rebels. Successful or not.
5 Unreliable Narrator. – First person narration point of view. As the story progresses the reader realizes the narrator is lying and is not the beneficent person they portray (and believe themselves).
6 Revenge Story 2 – Someone done wrong but NOT downtrodden, takes revenge on a victim that does not expect it.
7 You might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you. A long-ago incident – secret- comes back to haunt a person in a secure well-established position.
8 Petty Crime Goes Bad – Someone steals something (notebook? Laptop? Phone? IPOD? Digital storage card or thumb drive?) and it turns out to have something unspeakably evil and dangerous associated with it.
9 (related to #8) Ordinary Object contains evil. Gift? Bought at thrift stop? Item has power but also terrible danger.
10 Fractured Fairy Tales – Take an obscure (or well known) fairy tale and set it in modern day. Kick things up a notch.
11 Rosebud – Filthy Rich self-made man – his fortune can’t cure a hurt left over from his childhood or he can’t rescue a loved one – or both.
12 Memories of Childhood nightmares. – fear of atomic attack, making noise, or other mostly irrational fear – maybe it comes true (just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you).
13 An ordinary dystopia – A terribly ordinary day is told in all of its horror.
14 Requiem for a Dream – The hero’s constant struggle for a goal, for fulfillment, is turned by a fatal flaw – dreams turn to nightmares. The core sin is that of blindness to one’s true nature – and/or ignorance of one’s love’s true needs.
15 Mediocre athlete – a person aids a naturally gifted person – that is a fraud. The mediocre person ends up relaxing and winning himself.
16 – Expert helps downtrodden – an elite unexpectedly sacrifices a bit of his own success to aid someone not as elevated.
Sixteen down, eighty four to go. Leave a comment if you have any ideas, that would be cool.
17 Blast From the Past – A person meets someone that was a key influence in their distant past.
18 Mysterious Pest From Beyond – a hellish parasite arrives from an unknown location and attaches to the protagonist
19 Monkey’s Paw – Dream comes true, turns into a nightmare (similar to #14 – but different tone)
20 The Opposite Of Doomed Love – What if Romeo and Juliet said to each other, “I love you but this isn’t going to work out, what with the family and all.” What tragedy would ensue.
21 Military in Need – Opponents on the battlefield are thrown in with each other and must cooperate to survive.
22 What we were and have forgotten – The world from a child’s point of view. We don’t remember the fear.
23 Take a story you like, re-write it as your own. Steal Shamelessly.
24. Character undergoes a rare injury. Discovers wires underneath.
25. Take a memory from the past and pair it with an incident in the present. Flashback.
26. Make a list of jokes. Write a scene where the characters say the jokes.
27. Pick a spot and place a couple arguing there. Write the backstory. Write what happens in the future.
28. Desperate child after his village is destroyed by the revolution. How does he/she survive? Revenge? Childhood redirected to hate.
29. How I met your mother. How I met your Grandmother. Has to have a twist.
30. Crazy neighbors.
31. An accident on the freeway.
32. A crash on the road – on purpose.
33. A man begging with an unusual sign.
34. A relationship dissolves in alcoholism and insanity.
35. Fan fiction – controversial episode.
36. Write about a simple story in a world very unlike the one you live in.
37. Hitchhikers picked up by someone very unusual.
38. Someone is given a prophecy of the future that he can’t understand
39. Aliens abduct a loved one. What happens when he returns different.
40. Trapped by a fire.
41. Think of an insane future scene.
42. Combine a wise teacher with a scene from a horror film
43. Take a favorite painting. Write the story within.
44. Some reading an unusual “Idiot’s Guide to” book.
45. Something loud happens at the library
46. Expensive security system – owner has to disable.
47. Have to help a friend dispose of a body
48. Everyday item – version built by aliens.
49. Mismatched couple at a restaurant
50. Unusual version of an ordinary item.
51. Man sees something from the window of a commuter train.
52. City person finds himself in wilderness with a person that lives there.
53. Busy city scene at a deserted time. Why?
54. Unusual Addiction
55. Trapped in a cave. Trapped in an elevator. Trapped in a locked room. Trapped outside the house.
56. Look through Journal entries. Pick a story and write in third person. Kick it up a notch.
57. Commuter sees something unusual on the highway during rush hour traffic.
58. Look through odd headlines (Weekly World News) for story inspiration.
59. Pick a brain teaser that involves a story problem. Write it as if it really happened.
60. A good person is forced to kill.
61. Future dystopian life in a large, crowded hotel.
62. Protagonist finds an unusual fossil
63. Sweet and sour – a protagonist that has had something terrible happen but finds himself in a beautiful spot in nature.
64. Scars – explanation – lies, maybe?
65. Working at a large, complex factor. Security guard? Finds something unexpected.
66. Bad day, everything possible goes wrong. Why?