Well, I figured that this topic may be of interest to some of you. In Fiction Writing class, we're going over basic plots, of which there are many. As it goes, stories can be analyzed as using combinations of these basic plots as a framework. Think of it as a toolbox: no one plot can handle every single story out there, but when you use the right ones for the job, and sometimes use the right ones together, you can drive the plot of the story in a compelling way.
Once you've got a primer on the basic plots, you can weave them into RPGs, making for better-paced and more compelling storytelling. When a plot is driving and engaging, you can get to the heart and soul of story much easier.
Revenge: Turning of the Gears
Most of you are probably familiar with the typical "quest" plot; it's straightforward and well-known enough that Joseph Campbell believed that it laid at the core of all human mythology. I personally don't hold with that view, for a few reasons, though I won't get into it here. I figure, though, that since the general "quest" plot is so well-known, I'd crank things into another common plot, which lends itself to all sorts of fun.
The revenge plot is perhaps exemplified best by Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, a lavish tale spun around the traps set by [SPOILER ALERT!]Edmond Dantes[/SPOILER ALERT!] (well, it's not a major spoiler...after all, it's the premise of the book) against the men who ruined his life. In a revenge plot, the lead is wronged, grows in strength (of some sort or another), and finally strikes at the ones who wronged him. Simple enough, right?
The Three Acts
Breaking things down a little further, we can use the "Three Acts" frame popularized by movies. The first Act, the beginning, introduces the situation and protagonist. The second Act, the middle, complicates things and makes them more intense, setting the stage for the end. The third Act, the conclusion, wraps everything up: this is where all the story comes to a head, and heads roll. The divisions between the acts can be marked by "doorways", which are specific events leading from one Act to the next. (The transition can easily be more subtle, but humans can be decidedly unsubtle in their perception, especially when it comes to the dramatic. A clear dividing-line is always nice.) The "first doorway" is that point where Act I becomes Act II, where the lead commits to action and moves the plot along. The "second doorway" is the point where all of the drama, action, and frustration of the Second Act leads the protagonist into position for the Third Act.
You still with me? That was a crash course in narrative terminology, so that you won't all be confused. Basically, as long as you know what the Three Acts are, sorta, and that the doorways are the dividers between them, you'll do fine. At this point, I explain what happens in each act...
First Act: We meet the protagonist. He should be sympathetic, or else we won't generally care about the wrong done to him. (Unless you're trying to be avant-garde and literary, this is the best approach to take. Experiment with it as you will.) Then, his life should become miserable. This suffering should come from the decision of someone else; there needs to be a villain who decides to make life miserable for the protagonist. Otherwise, the protagonist won't have anyone to take revenge on. So, we have the protagonist whose life is awful because of a villain. Make it worse. Then comes the First Doorway: when the protagonist decides to take revenge, instead of putting up with suffering.
Second Act: The protagonist plots. This is also where complications enter the story. Think of this act as the "training montage" of the story. The events which occur here are initiated by the protagonist, with the intention of getting advantage over the revenge targets, learning more about the targets, and laying plans for the decisive moment. These are often contrasted with the movements of the "enemy", tracking the opposition as they maneuver. (One potential complication here is the target discovering aspects of the revenge plot before the protagonist is ready.) The Second Doorway comes when all of the plotting leads to a point where the protagonist has the perfect opportunity to strike, or enough strength to crush the target with impunity. A more complicated way to move to Act III is events happening which force the protagonist to move the plan along, even if it's not ready.
Third Act: All the pieces come into play. Does the revenge plot succeed? Does the protagonist follow through with the revenge plot? How much pain and suffering fall out by the end? A revenge story can have a few different endings. The plan may succeed, though the protagonist might not be satisfied. The plan may fail, but perhaps it's because the protagonist wasn't willing to follow through. At any rate, tie up the loose ends, and you have the revenge plot completed.
The revenge plot is a compelling story, because it plays into the human sense of justice. When the protagonist is wronged in a sudden, violent way, it warps the morality of the world, and revenge can be seen as merely restoring the world to its previous state. If you roughly hit the Acts like above, you can branch out and put your own twists on the story. The best plots know their basis, and then play with it. It's plot alchemy, of sorts. And hopefully it works for you. Hang around, because I'll be coming back to this series...
- Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!
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