Roll a D20

Generating Stochastic Narratives

According to Ronald Tobias there are twenty “master plots” that structure all stories. According to Georges Polti there are thirty-six, and according to William Foster Harris there are three (IPL2). In spite of these discrepancies, each of these authors is onto something when he claims that 1) plots have patterns, 2) these patterns show up in various guises, and that 3) a knowledge of these patterns can enhance one’s appreciation of literary texts. But a command over different narrative structures can also enhance one’s writing of literary texts, as you shall now demonstrate. For this short assignment is your task to use the first story that you workshopped and think about its narrative structure by doing the following:

Part 1. Look at the list of plot types below and decide which pattern(s) your story follows. Write this down. If your story is a “Quest” for something, write down “1. Quest.” If it’s an adventure and a quest then write down “1. Quest and 2. Adventure.” Choose up to three.
Part. 2. Using an actual die or an online roller, roll a twenty-sided die, note the number, locate the number on the list below, and write down what it says. For example, if you roll a 16, write down “sacrifice.” You want a different number from what you’ve already identified. So if your story is currently a Quest and you roll a 1 for Quest, roll again.
Part 3. In *list* form (not story form), write down which five-ten events would need to happen in your story for it to conform to the new pattern. But here is the challenge: these events should not replace what you’ve already got. Instead, they should build from them.
Part 4. Repeat with a different pattern. For the second one you can roll or choose.

Post your responses below by filling the “Leave a Reply” box.
Tobias, Ronald B. 20 Master Plots. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993. (ISBN 0-89879-595-8)
This book proposes twenty basic plots:

Quest
Adventure
Pursuit
Rescue
Escape
Revenge
The Riddle
Rivalry
Underdog
Temptation
Metamorphosis
Transformation
Maturation
Love
Forbidden Love
Sacrifice
Discovery
Wretched Excess
Ascension
Descension.

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