There and Back Again

"There are no original plots," said a boy who thought he knew everything. He was a seventeen year-old artist, and as world-weary and cynical as only teenage artists can be.

I strongly objected to what he said.  But I was a few grades younger, and I was shy, so I kept my mouth shut.

Really, there are no original plots, like there are no original babies.  If you ignore hair, eyes, gender and personality, all babies are pretty much the same.  And all books, from War and Peace to a Harlequin romance like The Billionaire CEO and His Virgin Secretary, have certain things in common, even though one is full of confusing Russian names, and the other is full of confused secretaries.

Supposedly all stories can be boiled down to two basic plots.  The first is A stranger comes to town.

Pride & Prejudice:  "My dear Mr. Bennet, have you heard?  Netherfield Park is let at last!"

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: "You're a wizard, Harry."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:  "Suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her."

The Hobbit:  "Gandalf came by."

In essence, the stranger is a disruption of everyday life.  It doesn't haven to be a mysterious person.  It could be  a tornado.  A pretty girl at a party. The birth of a child.  Something happens, large or small, an d nothing will ever be the same again.

The second plot is this: The hero takes a journey. 

This often follows the arrival of the stranger, or the strange event.  The hero's life has been shaken up, and now he must do something about it.  In books like The Neverending Story and The Hobbit, this is a literal journey.  The hero trudges from one end of the earth to another, a literal there and back again.  In other books, this is a figurative journey through that much more terrifying landscape-- the human heart.

I believe BOTH of these plots will exist in almost every story:

1) Something happens to shake the hero out of the status quo. (The stranger.) 2) Now the hero has to do something about it.  (The journey.)

So the boy who thought he knew everything was right.

And he was totally, totally wrong.