Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.
Let it be known: Romance authors have a good point when they say, “Romance is NOT a type of story.”
It is not a plot. There are all sorts of different romance stories.
Which brings me to a deep, dark truth that needs to be said: They’ve done us wrong.
I have come to believe that everything they have taught us in creative writing, and in college, is boneheaded nonsense.
Except for the whole “earth is round” thing, plus the science and the math. That stuff is solid.
My secret lair includes a turret that is a library, full of Every Book on Writing, Rhetoric and Journalism Known to Man, and those books are 99 percent useless claptrap about either (a) the correct placement of semi-colons, which I believe should simply be shot, or (b) finding your happy place while you write at the same time every day.
These books are only good for kindling during the zombie apocalypse.
Aristotle was full of falafel when he told his eager little fanboys that there are only two stories: tragedies and comedies.
Your corduroy-clad creative writing teacher was wrong to say there are only three kinds of stories: man vs. self, man vs. man and man vs. society. Those are three types of conflict. They aren’t stories. Also, there are far too many reference to “man” in there.
George Polti — also European, and just as dead, but not Greek — was making things too complicated when he gave us 36 Dramatic Situations, when what he really did was list 36 complications and conflicts, and if you want to drive down that twisty path, hell, I can write you a list of 532 Dramatic Situations before noon.
If you gave me a pot of coffee, by 5 p.m. we’d get to 3,982 Dramatic Situations.
(Yes, Mr. Internet Smarty Pants, you a genius for using the google to find a Wikepedia thing explaining that Polti was merely following in the footsteps of that literary giant Carlo Guzzi, but hear me know and believe me later in the week: Carlo Guzzi was also an overcomplicated doofus.)
Also: just as there is no romance story type, there is no such thing as a Western, though Clint Eastwood is a manly man, and a studly director these days of impressive subtly and power for an actor who used to specialize in grunting and shooting people, though there was nobody better at doing both with style.
There is no finer Man Movie than THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, where you are required by law to take a swig of decent tequila whenever Clint shoots a man and down two shots if he actually speaks a line of dialogue.
For you D & D and World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings dorks — and I say that lovingly, though I want you to put down the Cheetos and the Playstation controller to go out in the world to kiss a girl, though please make sure she wants to be kissed first, and does not Mace you — there is also no such thing as a sci-fi or fantasy story.
You can set a story a dusty Arizona mining town in 1875, or put the guts of that same story into a space station orbiting the second moon of Zenon or whatever. Either way, it’s the same story.
You can add elves and dragons and trolls. It’s still the same story.
Blake Snyder cut through all this tradition and nonsense with his SAVE THE CAT books.
Blake points out that it’s patently stupid to call FATAL ATTRACTION a domestic drama and ALIEN a sci-fi movie and JAWS a horror flick, because they are all the same basic, primal story: there’s a monster in the house.
I will not summarize Blake’s book here by giving away all his other evil secrets. He’s boiled things down to ten primal stories, and yes, you can insert as many Dramatic Situations as you want into those ten stories.
Blake has done all writers a great service with his two books, which do have silly titles and a cover that always features a cat. As the writer of a silly blog, I give him slack for that. He is not pompous. He is not arrogant or overly complicated. Blake was simply a freaking genius when it comes to storytelling, and the world is a poorer place now that he died young.
Go buy his book. DO IT NOW.
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.