It’s Raining Plots! . . . or There’s More than One Way to Skin a Story
Sometimes plot formulas are short, crisp, and easy to please . . . such as Rod Serling’s simple Twilight Zone plot formula: ordinary people forced to confront extraordinary circumstances that conclude with a big twist of fate (deserved, undeserved, or ironic).
Or the proven classic ten-word Quest plot formula: an object to obtain and limited time to obtain it.
Though we can always extrapolate the basic Quest plot formula with Lester Dent’s ingenious take on it: 60,000 total words per novel, divided into four sections of 15,000 words, six chapters in each section, no chapter longer than 2,500 words.
Each chapter must contain elements that advance the action (with a dire event occurring every four pages) while presenting the familiar tale of a fallible and reluctant hero who tries to avoid responsibility but ends up being pitted against vastly superior, even superhuman forces all while multiple people compete in a quest to gain a much-sought-after object or MacGuffin such as the Holy Grail, the Maltese Falcon, the gold of El Dorado, blah blah blah.
And don’t forget the “Only six days to save the world! Then five days, then four . . . then hours . . . then thirty seconds!” time-clock ticking away throughout the story while providing constant increasing tension.
Sometimes plot formulas contain just a feather-tickling touch to the balls more detail while focusing on your protagonist’s and antagonist’s internal conflict over external plot:
1. a Problem (or flaw needing fixed)
2. a Want (or goal they pursue)
3. a Need (or life lesson to be learned)
4. a Motive (or reason for contesting against the protagonist)
5. an Opportunity (or how they arrive at doing it)
Or something so simple as the basic Love Story plot formula:
Act 1: boy meets girl
Act 2a: boy gets girl
Act 2b: boy loses girl
Act 3: boy gets girl back
Or they can present just a smidge more detail, as with Terry Goodkind’s basic plot formula (*note that this is a relevant parody of Terry’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series of works and not from the author himself):
Each novel has a Magical Problem which instigates the heroes into a Forced Separation. This quest lasts the entire novel, with the heroes encountering new people they convince to join them via the excruciating Political Monologue which is always repeated ad nauseam. Eventually at the end Richard discovers the Lost Magical Power which conveniently fixes the Magical Problem. Unbeknownst to our heroes though, the Lost Magical Power comes with Unforeseen Consequences which usually manifest at the start of the next novel as a New Magical Problem. Rinse and repeat.
Some plot formulas present nonlinear structures to work with, such as John Truby’s 22 Steps of Master Storytelling plot formula; *(!!!) mark the minimum 7 steps that, according to Truby, are essential to every story:
1. Self-revelation, need and desire: combination of steps 20, 3 & 5.
2. Ghost and story world: the hero’s counter-desire.
3. (!!!) Weakness and need: the hero’s flaws are keeping them from having the life they desire.
4. Inciting event: outside event that spurs the hero to action.
5. (!!!) Desire: the hero’s story goal.
6. Ally or allies: the hero gains an ally.
7. (!!!) Opponent and/or mystery: an opponent or mystery that keeps the hero from reaching their goal.
8. Fake-ally opponent: a shapeshifter or false friend.
9. First revelation and decision (changed desire and motive): a revelation causes the hero to make a decision that results in a change in direction.
10. (!!!) Plan: the hero’s plan to overcome their opponent and reach their goal.
11. Opponent’s plan main counterattack: the opponent’s plan to overcome their opponent and reach their goal.
12. Drive: increasingly desperate (and possibly immoral) series of actions the hero takes to defeat the opponent and reach the goal.
13. Attack by ally: an ally confronts the hero about their increasing desperation and immorality.
14. Apparent defeat: lowest point when the hero believes they’ve lost. For fall arcs, this may be an “Apparent victory” instead.
15. Second revelation and decision: obsessive drive, changed desire and motive: the hero receives a new piece of information that allows them to continue towards their goal.
16. Audience revelation: the audience learns a vital piece of information that’s kept from the hero.
17. Third revelation and decision: the hero learns something about the opponent that will help them win.
18. Gate, gauntlet, visit to death: pressure on the hero grows and they’re forced to face difficult trials.
19. (!!!) Battle: a final (violent) conflict that determines who wins.
20. (!!!) Self-revelation: the hero learns who they truly are.
21. Moral decision: a decision that proves what the hero has learnt in the self-revelation.
22. (!!!) New equilibrium: the need and desire have been fulfilled and the world goes back to normal, though the hero has changed.
While other plot formulas present more linear steps, such as the James Bond formula provided in Umberto Eco’s 1981 book ‘The Role Of The Reader’ presenting the Bond formula as a nine stage structure that kicked off with Goldfinger (*each step occurs in every film, and though they aren’t always in this exact order, all are guaranteed components of a post-Goldfinger Bond film):
- M gives a task to Bond.
- The villain appears to Bond.
- Bond gives the first check to the villain or vice versa.
- ‘The girl’ shows herself to Bond.
- Bond possesses the girl or begins her seduction.
- Villain captures Bond then the girl or both at the same time.
- The villain tortures Bond and sometimes the girl.
- Bond beats the villain, killing him or his representatives.
- Bond possesses the girl whom he then loses, because she either leaves him or she is killed.
Of course there’s also the longer typical James Bond movie plot formula as detailed by Mauler:
1. Intro: Bond theme and classic gun barrel intro.
2. Opening Scene: Bond escapes certain death in spectacular stunt sequence. Key characters such as the Henchman often introduced.
3. Opening Credits: Women and guns set to an original song by an established artist which includes the title of the movie in its lyrics.
4. Bond receives his mission: Bond flirts with Miss Moneypenny and receives his latest mission from M.
5. Bond visits Q: Bond receives the latest gadgets from Q along with standard gadget-based humor while Q remarks on Bond’s immaturity.
6. Bond heads out: Bond leaves to the exotic location of the Villain’s Evil Plan. Sweeping vistas are shown.
7. Bond meets Bond Girl: Flirtation begins. The Bond Girl often has a name with a sexual connotation as in Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Holly Goodhead, Miss Goodnight, or Octopussy.
8. Bond has a run in with Villain’s Henchman: Bond is overconfident and barely escapes.
9. Bond investigates: Bond begins to learn the Villain’s Evil Plan.
10. Chase Scene: An extended Chase Scene occurs involving Bond, various enemies, perhaps the Bond Girl, fantastic vehicles, incredible stunts, and much destruction.
11. Bond infiltrates Villain’s Fortress: The Fortress is usually located in a fairly inaccessible place such as on an island, on top of a mountain, inside a volcano, on a stealth ship, et cetera.
12. Bond battles Villain’s Pets: Usually sharks, but may be piranhas, sea bass or other predator.
13. Bond Captured!: The Villain captures Bond and the Bond Girl inside the Fortress. Rather than killing Bond outright, the Villain places him in a situation involving ridiculously slow yet almost certain death and continues with his Evil Plans as if Bond was already dead.
14. Evil Plan revealed: Around this point the Villain insists upon telling Bond his twisted scheme.
15. Bond Escapes: Bond miraculously and implausibly escapes and proceeds to wreak havoc.
16. Bond Army: A large group of good guys assists Bond in a huge battle with the Villain’s usually jump-suited forces. May be the U.S. army, ninjas, coast guard divers, the British navy, et cetera.
17. Bond triumphs: Bond has the Villain on the run. Unless the Villain is Blofeld, Bond kills him.
18. Destruction of the Fortress: Huge explosions.
19. Final Battle with the Henchman: The loyal Henchman fails to avenge his employer’s death.
20. Bond stranded with Bond Girl: Usually the Bond Army is trying to retrieve them but they wish to remain stranded. Kissing ensues.
21. Credits Roll: The words “James Bond will return” appear at the end of the credits.
*Key Elements: these can happen at any time during the movie:
1. Bond requests a vodka martini “shaken not stirred” at some point in the first half of the movie.
2. Bond introduces himself as “Bond. James Bond.” at some point in the movie, usually to a woman.
3. Bond cracks one liners, usually about the deaths of bad guys.
4. Bond gambles in a scene usually involving a bad guy and a woman. Bond appears to be losing at first but then wins with a sudden stroke of luck (or is it?).
5. Fallen Friend: one of the good guys is killed in a poignant scene.
6. Bond employs Q’s gadgets in a desperate situation to spectacular effect.
7. A satellite plays an integral role in the plot.
Though Mauler also adds a shorter typical James Bond movie plot formula, with the best ones tending to follow this pattern:
1. Bond is asked to investigate a seemingly minor matter: someone is smuggling gold, the theft of a space shuttle, a missing bomber pilot, that sort of thing.
2. While on this seemingly minor mission, Bond discovers something else is up: a plot to rob Fort Knox, a facility for making poison gas, a pair of missing nuclear missiles, et cetera.
3. As Bond digs into the matter, he discovers the person he’s investigating has a girlfriend the guy never sleeps with and so Bond uses her as an “in” to get closer to the person.
4. The girl is initially loyal to the bad guy, but eventually she succumbs to Bond’s irresistible charms. It’s about a 50/50 shot if she lives through the film. There are often two women, one who dies and one who makes it.
5. We the audience learn what is really up: Fort Knox is going to be nuked, Miami is going to be nuked, the whole world is going to be nuked, whatever. *Actually the better Bond movies present villains with less ambitious plans than “take over the world”.
6. Bond, of course, saves the day.
7. Bond still has to fight off the villain or one of their henchmen. He gets the girl at the end.
Or you can just stick with the bare bones basics and use the ol’ reliable eight sequence plot formula:
1. Inciting Incident: introduction of the story’s central conflict to the flawed protagonist.
2. Physical Crossing: the half-committed protagonist leaves her comfort zone to resolve the central conflict.
3. Pinch Point: the progressing protagonist’s developing traits are tested in a minor way while she abandons old habits for new skills.
4. Midpoint: the changing protagonist achieves a big success in resolving the central conflict though not the central conflict itself . . . followed by a logical though surprising Twist which raises the personal stakes for all involved.
5. Punch Point: the regressing protagonist is tested in a major way while relying on old flaws over new virtues out of stubborn habit.
6. Spiritual Crossing: the determined protagonist abandons her central flaw for her new opposing virtue through enlightening epiphany and takes the suicidal fight to the antagonist.
7. Subplot Wrap-ups: all subplots outside the tenacious protagonist are resolved before her final confrontation with the antagonist.
8. Resolution: the changed protagonist embraces her central virtue to fullest potential, defeats the antagonist and wins the day.
Then there’s the Therefore/But story structure plot formula:
The co-creators and lead writers for South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, revealed their simple rule for rewriting and improving story.
“I call it the rule of replacing ands with either buts or therefores.”
A common trap a lot of writers fall into is describing actions and events in a typical “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened . . .” But this type of X and then Y and then Z progression, similar to creating a list of random events, is not engaging because this approach to writing (or even speaking) is dull and generates zero momentum let alone sustains little interest.
“Whenever I can, I go back in the writing and change that to “this happened, therefore this happens. But this happens . . .” Trey continued. “Each individual scene has to work as a funny sketch. You don’t want to have one scene and go ‘Well, what was the point of that scene?’ So we found out this rule that maybe you guys have all heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. But we can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline. And if the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats, well, you’re f*cked, basically. You got something pretty boring. What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down is either the word ‘therefore’ or ‘but,’ right? So what I’m saying is that you come up with an idea and it’s like ‘okay, this happens’ and then ‘THIS happens.’ No no no. It should be ‘this happens’ and THEREFORE ‘this happens.’ BUT ‘this happens’ THEREFORE ‘this happens.’ And sometimes we will literally write it out to make sure we’re doing it. We’ll have our beats and we’ll say okay ‘this happens’ but ‘then this happens’ and that affects this and that does to that and that’s why you get a show that feels okay.”
*To summarize the Therefore/But story structure plot formula: you want to avoid the dreaded “. . . and then, and then, and then . . .” string of arbitrary whims while plotting (especially so during that pesky first draft) because whenever you replace your ‘ands’ with ‘buts’ and ‘therefores’ it makes for better writing.
Or maybe you’re of a particular genre in mind so that you can use the basic Mystery Novel Cheat Sheet plot formula:
1. Present the crime.
2. Introduce the sleuth.
3. Offer plausible suspects.
4. Introduce crime complications.
5. Introduce private life subplot.
6. Initial investigations and interrogations reveal clues.
7. Disappearance of the suspect(s).
8. Raise the stakes.
9. Development of subplot.
10. Reveal hidden motives of stakeholders.
11. Unsatisfying solution reached.
12. Return to overlooked clue from Act 1.
13. Resolution of subplot.
14. Confrontation with true perpetrator.
Or the basic Romance Novel Cheat Sheet plot formula:
1. Introduce the protagonist (who feels incomplete).
2. Protagonist meets the love interest but there is conflict.
3. Characters are forced to spend time together.
4. Characters’ goals are at cross purposes.
5. Characters are bound together in a situation (where sexual tension occurs).
6. Protagonist’s individual desire conflicts with the growing relationship.
7. A crisis shift to prioritize relationship ends in disaster.
8. Climax: the protagonist must make a personal sacrifice for ultimately fulfilling relationship.
Yet another example of simplicity, the New and Improved Gary Provost Paragraph shows that a plot formula doesn’t need to be complicated. Here is an archetypal story summarized in one paragraph:
Once upon a time, ‘something happened’ to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a ‘goal’. So he devised ‘a plan of action’, and even though there were ‘forces trying to stop him’, he moved forward because there was ‘a lot at stake’. And just as things seemed ‘as bad as they could get’, he learned ‘an important lesson’, and when ‘offered the prize’ he had sought so strenuously, he had to ‘decide whether or not to take it’, and in making that decision he ‘satisfied a need’ that had been created by ‘something in his past’.
Then there’s the more detailed plot formulas such as Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat!’ beat sheet intended for screenplays (as told by the suggested pages) though adaptable to novels with some creative toying:
-ACT 1- (THESIS)
1. Opening Image (page 1): set tone, mood & style; give “before” snapshot of hero.
2. Theme Stated (pg. 5): declaration of theme, argument or story purpose (by minor to main character).
3. Set-up (pages 1–10): introduce hero’s quirks; how & why they need to change.
4. Catalyst (pg. 12): bad news that knocks down set-up, but ultimately leads the hero to happiness.
5. Debate (pages 12–25): hero questions their ability to proceed.
-ACT 2- (ANTITHESIS)
6. Break into Two (pg. 25): hero (through their own decision) moves into the antithetical world.
7. B Story (pg. 30): break from main story; often a “love” story; meet new characters antithetical to earlier ones.
8. Fun and Games (pages 30–55): provides the promise of the premise; movie trailer moments; whatever’s cool.
9. Midpoint (pg. 55): fun and games over; hero reaches false peak or false collapse; changes dynamic; raises stakes.
10. Bad Guys Close In (pages 55–75): bad guys regroup; internal dissent in hero’s team; hero isolated and headed for fall.
11. All Is Lost (pg. 75): false defeat (that feels real); “whiff of death” (often of mentor); end of old way.
12. Dark Night of the Soul (pages 75–85): darkness before the dawn; hero feels they’re beaten and forsaken.
13. Break into Three (pg. 85): internal B story provides solution to A story.
-ACT 3- (SYNTHESIS)
14. Finale (pages 85–110): triumph for hero; bad guys dispatched (in ascending order); hero changes world.
15. Final Image (pg. 110): opposite of opening image providing proof of real change.
Or the plot formula by Eva Deverell who created the One Page Novel as an amalgamation of some of her favorite methods. As the name suggests, it’s designed to fit on one page, and it uses example fill-in-the-blank scenes to speed up the plotting process:
Though Eva Deverell’s One Page Novel formula is an 8-stage method that is plotted out of order on purpose:
Each stage provides a unique function, and they all help to support the larger structure:
1. Stasis: the protagonist isn’t living to their full potential; opposite state to Resolution.
2. Trigger: an internal or external impulse (or both) forces the protagonist to take the first step towards their #3 state.
3. Quest: the protagonist enters the new world of adventure, meets mentors and/or allies and makes a (bad) plan to solve the problem the Trigger created.
4. Bolt: the (bad) Quest plan inevitably goes wrong.
5. Shift: the protagonist makes the paradigm shift necessary for them to inhabit their Resolution state.
6. Defeat: the protagonist makes the ultimate sacrifice.
7. Power: the protagonist discovers a hidden power within themselves that allows them to seize the prize.
8. Resolution: the protagonist is living up to their full potential in their Resolution state.
Of course you can always stay classic as with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey plot formula:
STAGE 1: SEPARATION
1. Call to Adventure: A problem or threat interrupts the hero’s normal life.
2. Refusal of the Call: Initially, the hero is hesitant to embark on the journey. Therefore, they refuse the call.
3. Supernatural Aid: Someone they look up to helps them find the inspiration to join the journey.
4. Crossing the First Threshold: This is the point where the hero leaves on their journey.
5. Belly of the Whale: The hero encounters the first obstacle after leaving on the journey.
STAGE 2: INITIATION
6. Road of Trials: These are the trials the hero undergoes and the beginning of the change in some aspect of the hero. They learn from their mistakes in this step.
7. Meeting with the Goddess: The hero meets the allies that will help them through their journey.
8. Woman as Temptress: The temptation that arises to try and persuade the hero to abandon the journey.
9. Atonement with the Father: One of the major turning points of the story where the hero faces the ultimate reason for the journey. The hero might face a villain or even their own doubt.
10. Apotheosis: From the previous step, the hero learns how they will face the rest of the journey. This is the moment the hero gains profound understanding or knowledge that helps them to prevail.
11. Ultimate Boon: The hero fulfills the reason for their journey.
STAGE 3: RETURN
12. Refusal of Return: The hero is initially reluctant to return to their mundane life.
13. Magic Flight: Though the hero has answered their call and completed the reason for their journey, they are still chased by others. In this step, the hero works to evade those chasing them.
14. Rescue from Without: Again an outside source or mentor works to guide the hero home and rescue them from those chasing them.
15. Crossing the Return Threshold: The hero crosses back into their mundane world.
16. Master of Two Worlds: Since the hero has been on the journey, they need to learn to balance their mundane life and the world they experienced on the journey.
17. Freedom to Live: The hero acclimates back into their mundane life and lives peacefully.
Or Christopher Vogler’s simplified version of Campbell’s monomyth plot formula:
1. Ordinary World: This step refers to the hero’s normal life at the start of the story, before the adventure begins. It’s the starting point, and it provides a glimpse into the character of the hero before the adventure begins. Often, this hero will change over the course of the story. We may see evidence of hamartia or a fatal flaw in the hero at this early point in the story.
2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with something that makes them begin their adventure. This might be a problem or a challenge they need to overcome. In general, the hero must make a choice about whether to undertake the adventure.
3. Refusal of the Call: The hero attempts to refuse the adventure because of fear. They may feel unprepared or inadequate, or may not want to sacrifice what is being asked of them.
4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero encounters someone who can give advice and prepare them for the journey ahead. Acting as a mentor, this person imparts wisdom that may change the hero’s mind.
5. Crossing the First Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure. This step may seem almost inevitable, but it also represents a choice the hero is making. It’s a door through which the hero must pass for the story to really begin.
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of their new world. During this time they endure tests of strength and tests of will, meets friends, and come face to face with foes. This period in the journey helps define the hero’s relationship with other characters in the story. During this part of the journey the hero learns who will help and who will hinder.
7. Approach: Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas. This is a lesson in persistence for the hero. When they fail, they need to try again. Often, the stakes are rising, and real overall failure becomes less of an option.
8. Ordeal: The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, such as a life or death crisis. They must come face to face with their weaknesses and overcome them. This will be something the hero barely manages to accomplish.
9. Reward: After surviving death, the hero earns a reward or accomplishes their goal. This is a moment of great success in the story. The hero is a changed person now, though they may not fully realize the extent of the change in their continued focus on the matter at hand.
10. The Road Back: The hero begins the journey back to ordinary life. In some ways, integrating back into their life will prove another challenge because they are different now after the ordeal.
11. Resurrection Hero: The hero faces a final test where everything is at stake, and they must use everything they have learned. This is where personal changes prove useful. The hero is now ideally suited to overcoming the obstacles in front of them.
12. Return with Elixir: The hero brings their knowledge or the ‘elixir’ back to the ordinary world, where they apply it to help all who remain there. This is the true reward for the journey and transformation.
*Here are two examples of story using Vogler’s simplified Hero’s Journey plot formula:
-THE ODYSSEY- (a Greek classic):
1. Ordinary World: Odysseus is at home with his wife and son.
2. Call to Adventure: Odysseus is called to fight the Trojans.
3. Refusal of the Call: He doesn’t want to leave his family.
4. Meeting with the Mentor: The goddess Athena guides Odysseus.
5. Crossing the First Threshold: After the war, the gods are angry, and Odysseus’ ship is taken off course.
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Odysseus and his men must go through several tests, including fighting a sea monster and a cyclops.
7. Approach: Odysseus’ crew opens the bag of winds when they are nearly home, sending them away again.
8. Ordeal: Odysseus must go to the underworld.
9. Reward: Odysseus receives passage home.
10. The Road Back: Odysseus returns home to find his wife is being courted by many suitors.
11. Resurrection of the Hero: Odysseus is patient and dresses as a beggar to test his wife’s fidelity.
12. Return with the Elixir: He learns she has been faithful, and their union is restored.
-BEOWULF- (the old English poem):
1. Ordinary World: Greatland is Beowulf’s ordinary world.
2. Call to Adventure: Beowulf heard stories of Grendel, who has killed many men, so that he’s asked to help.
3. Refusal of the Call: Beowulf chooses not to refuse the call.
4. Meeting with the Mentor: King Hrothgar becomes Beowulf’s mentor, helping him learn what it is to be a good king.
5. Crossing the First Threshold: Beowulf sails across the sea to Denmark.
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Beowulf battles Grendel.
7. Approach: Beowulf learns that Grendel’s mother lives.
8. Ordeal: Beowulf must fight the swamp hag.
9. Reward: Beowulf receives treasures as a reward.
10. The Road Back: Beowulf becomes the king.
11. Resurrection of the Hero: Beowulf fights a dragon to defend his kingdom.
12. Return with the Elixir: Beowulf dies a hero’s death and is remembered by his people.
Or how about Vladimir Propp’s fairy tale and folklore plot formula (abridged version); each tale begins with an ‘initial situation’ (a brief description of the hero’s state and character before the story takes him up) to which are added any of the following functions:
1. Absentation: One of the members of a family absents himself from home.
2. Interdiction: An interdiction is addressed to the hero.
3. Violation: The interdiction is violated.
4. Reconnaissance: The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance.
5. Delivery: The villain receives information about his victim.
6. Trickery: The villain attempts to deceive his victim in order to take possession of him or of his belongings.
7. Complicity: The victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps his enemy.
8. Villainy: The villain causes harm or injury to a member of a family; or 8a. Lack: One member of a family either lacks something or desires to have something.
9. Mediation (the Connective Incident): Misfortune or lack is make known; the hero is approached with a request or commend; he is allowed to go or he is dispatched.
10. Begging Counteraction: The seeker agrees to or decides upon counteraction.
11. Departure: The hero leaves home.
12. First Function of the Donor: The hero is tested, interrogated, attacked, et cetera, which prepares the way for his receiving either a magical agent or helper.
13. Hero’s Reaction: The hero reacts to the actions of the future donor.
14. Provision or Receipt of Magical Agent: The hero acquires the use of a magical agent.
15. Spatial Transference/Guidance: The hero is transferred, delivered, or led to the whereabouts of an object of search.
16. Struggle: The hero and the villain join in direct combat.
17. Branding: The hero is branded.
18. Victory: The villain is defeated.
19. Liquidation: The initial misfortune or lack is liquidated.
20. Return: The hero returns.
21. Pursuit/Chase: The hero is pursued.
22. Rescue: Rescue of the hero from pursuit.
23. Unrecognized Arrival: The hero, unrecognized, arrives home or in another country.
24. Unfound Claims: A false hero presents unfounded claims.
25. Difficult Task: A difficult task is proposed to the hero.
26. Solution: The task is resolved.
27. Recognition: The hero is recognized.
28. Exposure: The false hero or villain is exposed.
29. Transfiguration: The hero is given a new appearance.
30. Punishment: The villain is punished.
31. Wedding: The hero is married and ascends the throne.
Or you can get infinitely more complex and overly scientific to the extreme, as with the Perfect Horror Movie Formula: (es + u + cs + t) squared + s + (tl + f)/2 + (a + dr + fs)/n + sin x — 1.
Number-crunchers worked out this mathematical formula behind the perfect horror film through rigorous study, and their complex equation identifies why thrillers like Psycho, The Shining, and The Blair Witch Project make such great spine-chillers.
The mathematical model (( (es+u+cs+t) squared +s+ (tl+f)/2 + (a+dr+fs)/n + sin x — 1 )) shows what elements of suspense, realism and gore combine to make a blood-curdling scary movie.
The researchers discovered that suspense comprised four essential categories: escalating music (es), the unknown (u), chase scenes (cs), and the sense of being trapped (t).
Because suspense is one of the most important qualities in a horror movie, the equation is (es+u+cs+t) squared before shock (s) is added to the formula.
And these experts claim for a movie to be truly terrifying it must be realistic. That’s why the next part of the equation sees true life (tl) and fantasy (f) added together and divided by two (tl+f)/2 to find a medium between a plot which is too unrealistic and too close to life.
The smaller the number of characters in a horror movie, the more the audience can empathize with them. And the darker the scene, the more frightening the characters’ isolation can become. So the formula looks at whether the characters are alone (a), in a dark environment (dr), the film setting (fs), and divides it by the number of people (n) in the film (a+dr+fs)/n.
But if a character or situation falls into stereotype, this detracts from the suspense and fear. So the experts have taken blood and guts (Sin x) and subtracted it by the stereotypes (1), to make Sin x — 1.
*The twelve keys to the Perfect Horror Movie Formula are as follows:
1. es = escalating music
2. u = the unknown
3. cs = chase scenes
4. t = the sense of being trapped
5. a = the character being alone
6. dr = how dark the film is
7. fs = the film setting
8. tl stands for true life
9. f stands for fantasy
10. n is for number of people
11. sin is blood and guts
12. s = shock
I don’t know about you but my brain hurts after that last one.
And I could go on and on, but I won’t, because there exists a billion and one plot formulas from which you can pick and choose then write your story. The key here is to peruse as many possible then find one that most fits your comfort zone of style and voice and writing productivity then give it a whirl and discover where it takes you.
Off the beaten path?
That’s always good.
But to the dead-end of a half-finished story?
Never any good.
If the latter proves true then just toss the plot formula aside and pick another one, because there’s a bountiful array of helpful formulas waiting to guide your plotting route to a finished novel.
Or just spend some time studying as many as you can then design a plot formula all your own.