Regularly Expressing

science, sci fi, writing, spirituality

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.

Story Idea: The Ghost Seers Asylum

This idea came to me the other morning. I picture it as having a semi-serious, whimsical character. Think Ghost Busters meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

When Wendy confides in her mother that the kid next door who died in a car accident still visits her, she expects understanding–not to be hauled away to an institution.

When she arrives at Magnolia House Asylum, Wendy tries to tell people she’s not crazy. But Magnolia house isn’t there to cure the insane, but to cure the problem of seeing ghosts. As her therapy continues, more and more people in Wendy’s disappear, both new acquaintances in the asylum and people she thought she knew in the outside world. Eventually, she must decide whether to accept the cure and live her life, or stay in the asylum and hang onto the many friends she’s lost.

This isn’t about Abortion

This post isn’t about abortion, but there’s a story about abortion in it. I read somewhere on the internet about a married, pro-choice woman who got pregnant. She and her husband decided they weren’t ready for a child, so she went to the abortion clinic. While sitting there, she surprised herself by realizing that she believed the life growing inside her was a baby and she couldn’t kill it. She left. Because she didn’t get the abortion, her husband divorced her. Now she’s remarried and is pro-life.

What I think is interesting about this story is that it illustrates a particular aspect of the psychology of decision making. Our subconscious mind has its own beliefs and ideas that, for the most part, it keeps to itself. Only when our conscious mind decides to do something it really doesn’t like does it step up and make itself known. I’ve had a few of these experiences of my own (which I don’t feel like sharing at the moment).

If you know me and my theories about story structure, you know that I believe the moments where characters make decisions are the key, and I think these moments when the subconscious over-rules the conscious and surprises the character are the most interesting. When Tris decides to join Dauntless in Divergent, I think it was one of those kinds of decisions and it is one of the most memorable moments in that book for me.

If anyone knows another example of this kind of decision, I’d be interested to hear about it.

Privacy is Dying

Privacy is becoming an increasingly problematic concern for everyone. With the advent of drones, inexpensive cameras, etc., surveillance is becoming easier for governments and corporations. Inevitably, the temptation for governments and industry to acquire intelligence on all of us may become (or already is) irresistible. Most of us fear the “surveillance state” and feel that it represents an unjustifiable encroachment on our liberty.

The question is, what can be done about it? My theory is that the struggle to maintain privacy will only cause governments and corporations to be secretive about what they’re doing. Data is power. If we want to equalize ourselves with the collectors of data, we should accept our lack of privacy, and work on legislating the means by which the data is accessed, used, sold, and protected. Our data should be stored in distributed trusted servers, possibly in encrypted form, to defend against it being withheld or tampered with. Data on politicians should be public, since most of their misdeeds seem to come from efforts to cover things up. Anyone wanting to run for office should be required to air their dirty laundry at the start, and should accept that as the price of running for office.

Eventually, I think, we are going to be watched every moment of our lives from cradle to grave. As frightening as this is, many benefits might accrue from making this step. Crime will be reduced. Not simply because it will make it easier to catch criminals, but because most people will behave better if they know they are being watched.

In addition, we will be able to prove we are innocent. While “innocent until proven guilty” is supposed to be a basic right, it only applies to criminal proceedings. Simply being accused of rape is often enough to end a person’s career, or take their money through lawsuits. Indeed, the fact that this is possible gives the unscrupulous a tool by which they can defeat any honest person. A deeper embrace of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” could remedy this situation, but make it easier for rapists to escape justice. Only removing privacy solves both problems.

In addition, our health will be improved. Once medical data is more widely shared with researchers, the diagnosis, and treatment of numerous diseases should be improved.

Yes, we might be judged for mistakes we’ve made, but if we do our hypocrisy will be exposed. I think the end result will be that everyone is more tolerant of failures, and many of the things we suffer for trying to hide our failings will go away.

Is there really any serious downside to our coming loss of privacy?

From a Reader….


I read your “Memoirs of a Sith Lord” book at the airport waiting for my plane Sat. morning…—it was the perfect setting and I had a great read. I’m going to share it with a couple more people and I have no idea where it will end up. I liked the combination of emotional connection it wove through the saga and the dark-humor side of Darth we always suspected but never knew. The book left me wanting to read more about it—as any good book should do.

A reader

“Memoirs of a Sith Lord” is available on Wattpad. If you read it, and like it, please give it votes and/or comments.

I won an honorable mention in “Writers of the Future.” I will get a certificate by mail (and no, I don’t have to pay anything for that). Even though this isn’t publication, this counts as a writing credit suitable for query letters (so I’m told). Yay.

from Facebook

Today I presented our research into garbage collection (in the software sense), and the International Symposium on Memory Management in Scotland. It was well received, and several important researchers and students told me it was significant work. My co-authors are Hari Krishnan, Gokarna Sharma, and Costas Busch. In honor of the occasion, I’m changing my profile picture to the Garbage Man from Dilbert.

from Facebook

Advice for U.S.Air

I recently flew from D.C. through North Carolina to Baton Rouge. When I got to North Carolina, I found my flight had been canceled and I was given a new flight the next morning. I don’t know if they would have put me up in a hotel, I didn’t check because it was 7 hours to my flight, and I guessed that between shuttling to and from the airport I’d get less than 5 hours sleep and it probably wasn’t worth the trouble. Besides, I heard people saying the local hotels were all full, which wouldn’t be surprising with so many flights canceled. In retrospect, I wish I’d tried. Regardless, however, I was part of a very large number of people sleeping in the airport.

This terminal was a U.S.Air hub, which means it was almost exclusively their planes on the boards, and only the U.S.Air club was in the terminal. Now I realize that airlines are not swimming in profits these days, and there’s only so much they can do when there’s a storm. I heard a lot of people say they wouldn’t fly U.S.Air again, but I wasn’t one of them. However, I think they missed a lot of opportunities. For starters, I think it was a mistake to close up all the stores, and leave us all in the cold.

If I was the airline, I’d make deals with airport restaurants to keep one or two of them open all night in the event of massive cancellations. The restaurants that did it would make massive amounts of money, and it would earn a lot of good will. That’s the easiest (and most profitable) thing they could have done.

The second is to face the fact that people will sometimes need to sleep in the airport. It looked to me as if all the chairs were designed to prevent people from sleeping on them in any position. Low backs, immovable arm rests, etc. It might be nice to provide cots (I think Houston airport has some), or maybe set up a large number of air mattresses somewhere if there’s a massive number of cancelled flights. That shouldn’t be too costly, and it would give the impression that someone cared about us. And it has got to be cheaper than hotel vouchers.

This last suggestion is probably impractical. After the storm was over, it was late at night. Airplanes sat empty, docked to the terminals. Given that all the people were already in the airport, couldn’t they have scheduled an extra flight?