Master Plots and GenresThe Protagonist and the antagonist.The hero's journey (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and a stranger comes to town (Cat in the Hat).Master plots are recurring story types like the old rags to riches tale told over and over. These are called cultural myths or master narratives. Only the story patterns change. They are universal and tend to go in and out of style as culture dictates. Master plots look at cultural practices and historical trends. Discovering and re-discovering universal truths. At the very beginning of a story the reader will be thrown off balance and taken on a journey or introduced to a strange element or figure. A destabilizing event is the antagonist that begins the adventure.Master plots are not necessarily literately in nature. They can be framed in any genre. A genre is todays critical term defining a type or category. They also extend out into other media and ideological forms. Fiction and non-fiction are the two basic distinctions. Nonfiction gives us the facts and tells the truth. Fiction puts the reader in touch with their emotions and can enlighten all our efforts in learning the larger truths of life. Fiction provokes thought by delving into the universe and discovering old plots and re-writing new ones. Finding a larger story and framing a plot to make it interesting to the reader.Genres are usually in opposition to each other. Or at least they're supposed to be. Westerns are not horror stories and science fiction tales of fantasy are not legal thrillers. Right? Well, sometimes it doesn't work out that way. It really doesn't have to. The master plot will tell the moral of the tale if it's told well and with an interesting framework. Crossing the lines and stirring the pot by mixing genres together is a common practice. Try this little trick when picking up an unfamiliar book at the library: Read the first sentence and try to guess the genre or do it without looking at the picture on the cover or reading the blurb in the back nor any of the reviews to give it away. Can you guess which genre? Titles and authors can be a dead give-a-way so just pick a book at random and see if you can guess the type of story by playing that little game.In closing, here are a couple of questions to ask about some of the books you've already read:How many stories in any genre follow the pattern of 'the journey' or the 'stranger'?What are your favorite examples of these two forms of Master Plot?...till next time...
Discerning and creating patterns
Genres put us in a frame of mind to accept story content.
Is 'genre' a pejorative term used to describe a work as pulp fiction compared to a higher piece of literature?
What is 'mainstream' genre?
Would you expect trolls to appear in a Jane Austin novel?
Genres are just categories with sets of expectations for the reader. They set constraints, rules, and conventions that shape the patterns within the piece. Any abstract can be a foundation for a genre. Categories can criss cross within each other. Larger categories can contain many forms of genre.
Large genres focus more on form. Novel, prose, or poetry work like genres. Notice how that form can contain any type of genre. Bring in other categories inside such as drama, tragedy, and comedy. In turn these can contain there own sub genre such as sci fi, fantasy, political fiction. Genres can criss cross in strange ways and follow their own patterns.
Realism is just a genre. A set of conventions that people abide by to tell a story. All literature is lies. Consider any dialog within a novel. Do people really talk to each other in the way it is written? Try recording and transcribing an ordinary conversation at dinnertime with your family. Notice the flow? What is more 'real'? Even descriptions within a story can be questioned this way. Look for the use of metaphor to describe reality. It's all blended together to present a version of what is real to the reader.
Genre helps to set up how people receive any kind of material. The more formulas, the more cliches, and the more colloquialisms the better.
Using these conventions helps authors and readers play around with the trolls inside our own heads. And perhaps gives people a sense of commonality that we seem to lack in our own individuality. Stories themselves are a real thing. Is what inside a story helping you with your own version of realism?