Plot Patterns—Part I

plot-structureToday I’ll be using two resources to talk about plot patterns. One is James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure. The other is DiAnn Mills’ Dance of Character & Plot. I’m using both, because even though what they say is similar, the way they say is different. Both perspectives can broaden your understanding of plotting. Click to Tweet #Plotpatterns #Plotting

dance of character and plotI’ll start with DiAnn’s material from Dance of Character & Plot. On pages 58-59, she shares Dennis E. Hensley’s material. “Doc” Hensley is a professor at Taylor University. He was also involved in the Christian Writer’s Guild’s Craftsman program, which I took. Doc Hensley says there are nine basic plots, with examples)

  1. Character v. Character (Cowboys v. Indians)
  2. Character v. Himself/Herself (High Noon w/Gary Cooper)
  3. Character v. God (Job in the Old Testament)
  4. Character v. Machine (technology) (2001:A Space Odyssey)
  5. Character v. Society/culture (The Great Gatsby)
  6. Character v. The Unknown (D.O.A. w/Dennis Quaid)
  7. Character v. Setting/environment (Twister)
  8. Character v. Situation/circumstance (Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure)
  9. Character v. Fate/destiny (Oedipus Rex)

James Scott Bells puts his plot patterns this way:

  1. The Quest
  2. Revenge
  3. Love
  4. Adventure
  5. The Chase
  6. One Against
  7. One Apart
  8. Power
  9. Allegory

Today, we’ll look the first two of Bell’s plot patterns.

pilgrimage-1The Quest

“This may be the oldest plot of all. A hero goes out into the dark world and searches for something…The quest for knowledge or inner peace can also form the basis of this plot pattern.” Pg. 180

Rudiments of the Quest

  • The Lead is incomplete in his ordinary world
  • The search must be of vital importance
  • There must be huge obstacles placed in the way
  • The quest should result in character transformation in some way

Structure of the Quest

“Act I introduces us to the Lead and shows us some inner lack that the quest will help to remedy.” There must be dissatisfaction. Pg. 181

“The doorway of no return in Act I is the point at which the Lead commences the quest.” Then, there are a series of episodes or encounters along the way. In most of these, the character suffers a setback. That’s the conflict. “But as he struggles to overcome each setback, he moes another step closer to his objective, and thus the plot unfolds.” Pg. 181 The second doorway that leads to the final act is usually a major setback, discovery, or major clue.

“The quest is a powerful pattern because it mirrors our own journey through life.” Pg. 182


“Revenge is a gut-level pattern, and therefore highly emotional.” Pg. 182

Rudiments of Revenge

  • The Lead must be a sympathetic character because revenge is usually violent.
  • The wrong done is usually not the fault of the Lead, but if it is, it’s blown out of proportion to the fault
  • Revenge will have an effect on the inner life of the Lead

Structure of Revenge

Act I is such a comfortable place for the Lead, then is violently disturbed. The disturbance is the wrong.

Examples: The Count of Monte Cristo, “The Hunter,” “Payback,” “Point Blank.”

Act II consists of a series of confrontations that keeps the Lead from gaining his objective.

Finally, he is given a prime opportunity to take away something from the opponent. This is the Act II doorway that leads to the climax. But will the Lead take revenge? Or will he give up the desire for the greater good, for a higher purpose?

A revenge plot is a great way to explore human nature.

Next time, we’ll get into Love and Adventure.

Does your fiction fit into either of these two? If not, hang in there. We’ll examine all of Bell’s nine plot patterns as we go along. What do you think of revenge stories? Do you like them or not? Leave a comment and let me know. #amwriting #plotting #plotpatterns Click to Tweet

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