Friday, January 20, 2006

Classic Plotting Patterns

-----Original Message-----
"I'm writing my first erotica novel, and I've set a Daily Word-count limit to improve my writing speed, but writing a whole novel takes so long. What are some other methods to break down a novel so it isn't so overwhelming?"
- Enthused but Overwhelmed ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Enthused,
- Besides setting daily word-count goals, another method for cutting novel-writing into bite-sized chewable pieces is to write the story Scene by Scene. Ahem, completing one scene at a time.

However, this method means planning the book out from beginning to end BEFORE you start writing, also known as: PLOTTING.

Plotting Patterns

Aristotle's Plotline:
From: "Elements of a Tragedy"
  1. The reversal of the protagonist's fortune is brought on by a personal flaw.
  2. The eventual recognition by the protagonist of this tragic flaw
  3. The resulting moral consequences of their actions.
Aristotle Translated:
  1. Glorious Hero does something he really shouldn't do, and everything falls apart on him.
  2. Not-so-glorious Hero scrambles to fix it, and realizes that it's his own damned fault.
  3. Hero crashes and burns. (He dies, she dies, everybody dies...)
Look familiar? It should. This is where the traditional Acts: One, Two, and Three, come from. However, most modern plotlines have a Fourth Act:
  • Burned hero fixes Himself and ends up fixing the problem in the process.

Aristotle in a Nutshell:
  1. Hero Rises.
  2. Hero smacks into his own Ego.
  3. Hero Crashes and Burns.
  4. Hero rises again - and Kicks Butt!

The Shakspearean Plotline
From Freytag's Plotting Pyramid
- In 1863, Gustav Freytag, a German playwright and critic, developed a diagrammatic outline for the Three Act Tragedy in his book "Technik des Dramas", known as Freytag's Plotting Pyramid. According to him, all of Shakespeare’s tragedies have six distinct structural elements:
  1. EXPOSITION: The mood and conditions existing at the beginning of the play.
  2. EXCITING FORCE: The initial incident.
  3. RISING ACTION: The series of events that complicate matters.
  4. CLIMAX: A crucial event where the tragic hero begins his downward spiral.
  5. FALLING ACTION: Advances and declines in the various forces acting upon the main character.
  6. CATASTROPHE: The consequences of the hero’s actions.
Freytag (Shakespear) Translated:
  1. EXPOSITION: Once upon a time there was a moderately Decent Guy...
  2. EXCITING FORCE: Decent Guy runs into trouble, and pisses the wrong people off.
  3. RISING ACTION: While trying to fix things, Decent Guy does things that are not-so decent.
  4. CLIMAX: Everything totally falls apart on Decent Guy. He panics and does the one thing he really shouldn't do.
  5. FALLING ACTION: Decent Guy suddenly realizes just how badly he messed things up and scrambles to fix it -- but it's too late!
  6. CATASTROPHE: With a stiff upper lip, and a really long speech, he dies, she dies, everybody dies. (Othello / Hamlet / Romeo Juliet / MacBeth...)
Alternate Shakespearian Ending!
  • 6. HAPPY ENDING: With a stiff upper lip, and a really long speech, he's forgiven, she's forgiven, everybody's forgiven. (Midsummer Night's Dream / Much Ado About Nothing...)

The Mythic plotline:
From Joseph Campbell's Mythic Cycle(Paraphrased -- so I won't get into copyright trouble.)
- This is the pattern that most Walt Disney movies follow and Star Wars uses

Act One - Chosen
  • Humble Beginnings
  • Destiny Comes Knocking
  • Shoved into Adventure
  • Sagely Advice ~ Paramours & Sidekicks
  • Leaving the Known World behind
Act Two - Challenge
  • Challenges, Friends & Foes
  • Dragon at the Crossroads
  • Into the Labyrinth
  • Temptation & Betrayal
Act Three - Crisis
  • Anger ~ Despair ~ Sacrifice
  • Inheritance / Blessing / Curse
  • Treasure & Celebration
  • Escape / Expelled from the Labyrinth
Act Four - Climax
  • The Hunter becomes the Hunted
  • Rescue & Loss of Paramour / Side-kick
  • Dragon at the Crossroads to Home
  • Death / ReBirth
  • Delivery of Treasure & Just Rewards

The Fairy Tale Plotline
From 1001 unabridged Fairy Tales

Once Upon a Time:
  • An impossible Oath/Promise
  • Attacked /Abandoned – Lost
  • Suspicious Rescue – Cornered
  • Promise is partially broken
  • Dangerous Revelation
  • Deception / Betrayal / Debt
Into The Wilderness
  • Quest / Leaving the known world behind
  • Troubles & Battles
  • Saves/ Saved by -- a suspicious stranger
  • A dubious Gift/Revelation (Hero’s trademark)
  • An Impossible Task – Refused
  • Unexpected Destruction /Emotional Loss
  • No choice, but Impossible Task
Evil’s Lair
  • Arrival at the Stronghold
  • Traps & Tests
  • The Villain Enraged – Dire Consequences
  • Promise Kept - scarred/marked/changed
  • Impossible task completed
  • Greater threat revealed
  • Daring Escape / Rescue
  • Pursued & Cornered
  • Climactic Confrontation
  • Hero uses gift (Hero’s trademark)
  • Demise of Villain / Evil Land
  • Celebration
Homecoming - The Unrecognized Hero
  • Unfounded claims to hero’s accomplishments
  • Challenge & Confrontation
  • Hero uses gift (Hero’s trademark)
  • Villain is exposed & punished
  • Hero gains new rank/appearance
  • Two possible futures: the Villain’s wealth/position, or the Hero's Heart’s desire
Looks a lot like the Mythic Structure doesn't it? It should. Fairy Tales are in fact old pagan myths that were adjusted to suit cultural changes.

Interestingly enough, only the really old tales in their original forms, (not doctored to make them suitable for children,) follow the entire pattern. (The Goose Girl, Donkeyskin, East of the Sun-West of the Moon, the Grimms' Snow White, Jack & the Beanstalk, Vasalisa the Wise, Mother Holle, Wild Swans...) The modern (and modernized,) tales skip whole sections.

The Romance PlotlineFrom 1001 paperbacks
  1. The Lovers meet -- and have Issues.
  2. The Lovers' Issues drive them apart.
  3. The Lovers realize that they can't live without each other. "Oh no, it's Love!"
  4. The Lovers battle odds to get back to each other -- fixing their Issues along the way.
  5. He's forgiven, she's forgiven, everybody's forgiven... "I love you!" -- and they shack up together.

The Erotica Plotline: From 1001 smut magazines and smut story sites
In Erotica the basic plot is always the same:
"They NEED to have sex - and they'll do anything to have it!"
However, there are many Genre Variations:
  • Romantic Erotica: "I love you! Let's f*ck!"
  • Glam Erotica: "He was rich, she was famous - they were f*cking."
  • Mystery Erotica: "Oh my god! Someone's been f*cked!"
  • Crime Erotica: "She'll never catch me f*cking her!"
  • Suspense Erotica: "Oh no! Am I going to be f*cked?"
  • Humor / Satire Erotica: "You call that f*cking?"
  • Sci-Fi Erotica: "They f*cked where no one has f*cked before!"
  • Horror Erotica: "Oh my God! It's f*cking me!"
  • Fantasy Erotica:"They f*cked - and it was Magic!"
  • Paranormal Erotica: "What the hell am I f*cking?"
  • Fetish Erotica: "Mmmm-mmm f*ck! Mmm-mmmm!" (Ball gag.)
  • Literary Erotica: "They came together in a glorious explosion of glittering climax. The roses painted on the battered wallpaper of their silent room watched them in the approaching twilight, a reminder of how fragile pleasure is..."
Honestly, an Erotica plot really IS that simple.

The easiest way to plot an Erotica Story is to decide on what you want for your climactic sex scene, then build a story and characters around it to make it VITAL for that scene to happen. You couldn't possibly write anything Other than Erotica.
In Conclusion…
The fastest way to write a story is by knowing what you want to write BEFORE you start writing. Plotting is also the easiest way to keep from writing yourself into a corner or getting lost in the details.
Look at Plotting as being a Map of the route you plan to take. Once you know where you are going, getting there is just a matter of staying pointed in the right direction. This doesn't mean you can't take off-roads or stop to look at the scenery, it just means that you won't get lost while taking those scenic bypasses.

Morgan Hawke


  1. hurrah -a new post! and a great one too!

  2. I'll second that hurrah! Thanks so much for posting these articles. I look forward to reading them and they've all proven very, VERY helpful to me.

  3. Yay! You're back! Thanks for the post.

  4. Really enjoyed that erotica plotline. (in a nutshell, I F ***
    therefore I am) LOL

    I was reading your various plotlines. Interesting seeing them lined up all in one neat little row. I've been following Vogler pretty much, but have had to modify. Lots of choices here.

    New post was great.

    I'm sure not all lines are the same, but is there an average length for an erotica novel?
    Someone mentioned between 40-60K

    Does it pretty much depend on who you want to send it to?

  5. LMAO! Thanks for the great read about erotica plotlines, and I appreciated your interpretation of the Aristotle one. I bopped over and picked up your yaoi book and can't wait to read the second.

    Terrific writing in your excerpts. I look forward to reading more.

  6. -- Daria, Diana, Adrienne --
    I'm glad you ladies liked this new post!
    - I've been tied in knots over my latest book, so my apologies for making you wait.

    -- Patricia --
    " there an average length for an erotica novel? Someone mentioned between 40-60K. Does it pretty much depend on who you want to send it to?"

    Erotica novel publishers, (Black Lace, Blue Moon, Chimera,) do tend to prefer 40k to 60k in length, as measured by WORD. That's about 200 to 300 NY formatted pages.

    (NY formatted Page = 250 words, no matter the actual count.)

    Erotic Romance e-publishers, on the other hand, prefer longer lengths: 80k to 100k, as measured by WORD. (Around 600 NY pages.)

    ALWAYS know the Submission Guidelines BEFORE you write!
    - Every publisher IS different, with different RESTRICTIONS on what they will print.

    Case in point:
    - NO Erotic Romance or Erotica publisher will take a hardcore Rape scene, where mainstream Romance and Women's Fiction WILL. Erotica & Erotic Romance will only accept Sex-Positive stories.

    -- Kayelle --
    Thank you!
    - I hope you enjoy TORRID.