Only nine plots exist

Stacks of books in a store

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As of this writing, Google tells me there are 129,864,880 books in the world. Mentalfloss tells me there are 134,021,533. The actual count is probably higher since neither figure was calculated this year and it’s impossible to accurately count self-published books, since not all of them have an ISBN.

So, how can I be so brazen as to say there are only nine plots—only nine basic stories—in this world?

Here’s an example:

An orphaned child is abused by relatives. The child dreams of different life but cannot fight against their fate. A person wielding magic steps in and gives the child a chance to be whisked off to a castle, where the child is able to see their self-worth. They are eventually forced back home and the relatives fight hard to keep the child from returning to the castle, but thanks in part to good friends and a bit of magic, they are able to make it back and leave behind their abusive childhood home.

Am I talking about Cinderella? Or Harry Potter?

Obviously that is a simplified example, but you get my meaning. A better example would be all the novels based on the same fairy tale, such as Cinderella. They are all so unique and different (and there are plenty more than I’ve just linked to), and yet they follow the same plot.

And that’s just ONE plot!

But there are nine, and it is the writer’s job to choose one and make it unique with their own characters, details, and voice.

The only nine plots in existence

Character vs Character
Character vs Him/Herself
Character vs Culture/Society
Character vs Setting
Character vs Situation
Character vs God(s)
Character vs Fate
Character vs the Unknown
Character vs Machine

All stories have their plot based in one of these conflicts. So, if you’re wrestling with your story because it sounds tired and overdone, consider how you might make it fresh and exciting. Every plot has been done multiple times, and when stripped to its bones, yes, your story may sound familiar.

But you are the only you that there is. Only you can make your story different than all of the others, because no other writer has your voice. What changes can you make to reenergize your plot and to give it a beat of its own to march to?

Finish that story and up the total count of books released into the world. I know you have it in you!

Do you tend to gravitate toward a certain plot for most of your stories? Or are each of your stories different from the others? I really like character driven stories with lots of interpersonal conflict, so I tend to write Character vs Character or Character vs Culture/Society stories. What’s your favorite to read? Is it different than what you like to write?

The Canon

Stack of books

Photo via Visualhunt.

I read an interesting article today by a literary agent about the importance of reading the canon. These are the books that “one must have read to be considered well-educated” in your genre or category.

Because she is an agent who represents books in the crime/thriller category, her top five books are:

The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie
The Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan
The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

She says the point isn’t to only pick five, but rather to “figure out what works in a novel that appeals to you for YEARS. A novel that you’d use to illustrate essential elements of a novel. … A novel that can be YOUR signpost for moving ahead.”

I thought it would be fun to try my hand at determining the canon for my category, which is YA fantasy romance, with an emphasis on fairy tale retellings:

 

Beauty by Robin McKinley Beauty by Robin McKinley

A strange imprisonment

Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”

 

 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (technically Middle Grade, not Young Adult, but still a classic)

At her birth, Ella of Frell receives a foolish fairy’s gift—the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey any order, whether it’s to hop on one foot for a day and a half, or to chop off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not accept her fate…

Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse forever.

 

 

 

 

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady in waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to help her. She becomes a goose girl and must use her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

 

 

 

 

East by Edith PattouEast by Edith Pattou

Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun. As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”

 

 

 

My Fair Godmother by Janette RallisonMy Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison (and the subsequent books in the series about the unconventional Godmother)

After her boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, sophomore Savannah wishes she could find a true prince to take her to the prom. Enter Chrysanthemum Everstar: Savannah’s gum-chewing, cell phone-carrying, high heel-wearing Fair Godmother. Despite a few wish-granting mishaps, Savannah’s fairy-tale ending might not be as far off as she imagined.

 

 

 

 

Update!

I was reminded of a book I used to love that better fits this list of fairy-tale based stories, and so have added East to this list. I originally included Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith—which I still love—but it’s an original fantasy, not a fairy tale retelling.

 

What do you think? Do you agree with my list? Would you choose different books? If you have any to recommend, I’m all ears. If you haven’t read one of these… well, what are you waiting for? You need to get started ASAP!