Master Plots

The “Save the Cat” books on screenwriting claim there are ten master plots. The idea of a master plot is that it helps you identify stories which are similar, so that you know what to watch or read in order to research the story you are working on.

I’m not claiming Blake Snyder’s list isn’t exhaustive, but I think there are other ways to “skin the cat” as it were, by adding new master plots to the list. These additions may overlap with existing items in some way, but they may resonate better for you. How do cook up your own master plot?

Each of these three master plots has three ingredients. I’ll give you a sampling from Blake’s books so you get the idea:

  1. Monster in the House
    1. A monster
    2. A house
    3. A sin – A good horror flick always has some evil deed that needs to be punished.

    May contain: The half-man, a character who has encountered the monster before and has come away physically or psychologically damaged.

  2. Golden Fleece
    1. A road
    2. A team
    3. A prize

    One naturally thinks of the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, etc.

  3. Out of the Bottle
    1. A wish
    2. A spell
    3. A lesson

    One naturally thinks of “Liar, Liar”, “Big”, or (of course) “Aladdin.”

I was thinking about the recent Avengers movies, as well as “Galaxy Quest” and what category to put these movies in. “Golden Fleece” is the obvious choice, but the odd thing about these movies is the villain seems to be the prize. It’s about a hunt. So I put it this way:

  1. Enemy Fleece
    1. A team
    2. A villain
    3. A hunt

    Something that’s typical in this type of story is the villain undergoes a transformation. At the start of the movie, the villain is big, scary, and powerful. By the end, he/she is revealed to be something small and unworthy of inspiring fear.

Anyway, that’s the recipe. Find three things common to a set of movies that define their flow, then give them a name. Have fun.

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