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20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them 3rd Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 003-5313654756
ISBN-10: 1599635372
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Frequently Bought Together

  • 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them
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  • 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, Revised Edition
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  • A Writer's Guide to Characterization: Archetypes, Heroic Journeys, and Other Elements of Dynamic Character Development
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ronald B. Tobias has spent his career as a writer moving from genre to genre, first as a short story writer, then as an author of fiction and nonfiction books and finally as a writer and producer of documentaries for public television. He is currently a professor in the Department of Media and Theatre Arts at Montana State University and the author of The Insider's Guide to Writing for Screen and Television. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; 3 edition (January 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599635372
  • ISBN-13: 978-1599635378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After 60 years of reading novels and 55 years of trying to write one to my satisfaction, I decided to take a course in writing fiction. The syllabus recommended Tobias' 20 Master Plots, one among three suggested titles. I read it first and liked it so much because it met my temperament. Consequently, I read it eagerly, penciling notes in the margins as I hurried along.

Being selective for most of my reading life and favoring the classics or what is termed literary fiction, I suspect I am well into appreciating the craft required. However, what has troubled me about most guides to fiction writing is the continued emphasis on conflict in plot structure. Most conflicts bewilder me into wondering why I should care about the characters. Tobias makes clear that action plots drive most popular fiction today; the rest are character-driven plots. He uses as an alternative expression to conflict the prospects from tension in the story. This may be a subtly semantic difference, but it promises greater complexity and subtlety in story-telling than the out and out razzle-dazzle of action plots.

Tobias hits the mark when he says, quoting Picasso, that the creator must first know the rules before setting out to break them. Okay, let's start with action and character examples of the most common plot usages. This he does with pinpointed relevance and incisive clarity. Also practically useful are the lists of check questions along the way. In short, did you learn the lesson?

I've read enough novels over my lifetime to learn that in the few hundred years of novel development, authors have exercised a great deal of experiment not only in plot, but in style.
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I think it's safe to say that I am in love with this book.

Ronald B. Tobias's craft book, "20 Master Plots and How to Build Them" takes an approachable and wizened tone to the subject of plot and plot-doctoring. At no point is the craft "preached" or laid out as hard-set rules to follow (indeed, he hastens, on many occasions, to remind us that the book only offers patterns).

The tone makes the text approachable, and the layout of the book is logical, concise, full of literary examples to illustrate points, and not at all gimmicky.

The twenty plots examined by Tobias include Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, The Rivalry, The Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension, and Descension. Each come with three or four literary or cinematic examples to help get the point across, and a checklist at the end to help "guide you" back on target. The text can be read cover to cover or piecemeal, however you plan to use it. There are a lot of cinematic examples, but I didn't find these detracting (after all, it's far more likely someone has seen a specific movie than read a specific book).

I personally recommend reading the book with a story already in mind. By the time I got to Chapter Five, I had so many new ideas for writing that I almost put it down... I'm glad I didn't, because in Chapter Thirteen, I was hit by another plot twist that basically fixed a lot of my tension issues in the outline.

This book not only helped me understand some of the fundamentals that are not inherently obvious, but did the most important task of all: got me psyched to start writing!
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By M. Morris on February 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is on my night stand; I'm 30 years old and it's the same copy I used when I was 13. I've come to this book time and again to get ideas on what plot structure to use and then how to implement it.

The book has a chapter for every plot you could think of. It explains the plot and then breaks down the order of events that normally occur in the plot. The author provides numerous examples of books and films to look into in order to better understand each type of plot.

This is a huge help when working out an outline, whether on paper or in your head.
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Although I may not agree that there are ONLY 20 Master Plots, you'd be surprised as to how many stories use one of, if not a combination of these plots.

The truth is, your story may be applicable to a few plots; that's the genius of it. It allows you to see some really cool ways if telling it. There's always more than one. You may even find a few plots in there that you would have never thought of using but, after reading its dedicated chapter, find yourself curious enough to explore......

Chase your intuition. As a said before, it's a good supplement, certainly worth it's price.
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As a writing guide, this book was just all right. It was more of a survey than a how-to. Tobias assumes the reader already knows a lot about film and literature. At times he names characters as examples without listing which work they are from, or references authors and expects the reader is familiar with their plot trends. Also, he was repetitive to the point of monotony. If you don't need examples or you don't want to read every point five times, everything instructional about each plot can be found in the checklist at the end of each chapter. It didn't make sense that he constantly repeated himself as if his readers are beginners while also assuming they know a lot about cinematic and literary works.

This entire volume suffered from a lack of editing. I don't mean grammar or nit-picky stuff. I mean, it was disjointed. Sometimes he switched gears without titling a new header, there were often no transition sentences between paragraphs to make things read smoothly, and he included things that made the reader wonder where that came from or why it was in that place (particularly in the six chapters preceding those covering master plots).

Not that I mind it since he is a screen writer, but he frames his discussion of the three-act structure primarily around examples from screen, giving marginal attention to either classic or contemporary literature. What I did mind is that he showed his screen bias so obviously (more than once). He prefers plot-driven commercial plots rather than character-driven literary plots. He said they don't require as much thinking and that he doesn't like to feel "lectured" by moral characters in literary stories. He also dares to speak for most of America with this particular opinion, citing market trends. I completely disagree with him.
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