"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: July 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 7 Great Story Plots of All Time

It's been a interesting week. Hope it's been good for you.

Poor Amy Winehouse, eh? I've never heard any of her music but I've followed her in the news. Hard not to.

Who knows what she might have done with the rest of her life?

Twenty seven is so young - but I knew she was in trouble when she drank a fifth of vodka at London airport at nine o clock in the morning - in public - on her way to rehab... that was less than a month ago.

Just goes to show that fame and success don't always bring you what you need to be happy. She was alone on a Saturday night when she died.

I'm starting to wonder whether these rehab places actually do any good at all. Their success rate with celebrities seems awfully low.

If I ran them, I'd get people interested in gardening or some other seemingly mundane activity. I have a theory that simple things like messing with plants and cutting grass can do heaps more for a troubled soul than any amount of psychotherapy.

May be I'm being too simplistic - but clearly the 'rehab' spin we often hear from celebrity publicists must be losing some of its credibility by now.

Anyway - to fiction. That's why you're here, right?

Well, ever wondered where to start with your stories? Go here:

character plot and POV course

To my fiction...

More (rave!) reviews coming in for my free novel:
Keep Writing!



The Seven Great Story Plots of All Time

Rob Parnell

Looking at the number of remakes that Hollywood churns out you'd be forgiven for thinking that original stories are in short supply.

A closer look reveals that it's not the stories so much as the characters that Hollywood jumps on. If there's already a clearly defined persona out there that the public already 'knows' then, the logic goes, it's easier to get people interested in going to see what that 'known' character will do in a modern re-telling.

The same logic applies to famous books and stories that already have substance (that is, in other words, personality) in the mind of the potential viewer. The very familiarity of old stories lends them a mystique that can generate interest before anything else is known about the plot.

But there is also a theory that there are only so many plots anyway. Seven to be precise (although that wise dude Aristotle only identified six.) And that any story is really only a retelling of the same basic formats established long ago...

If you study screen writing, for instance, you'll come across the 'hero's journey' plot - that is, just one story that apparently we can watch a million times and not get bored - or even realize we're being shown the same basic story wrapped up in a different premise over and over again.

BTW: Film producers actually get quite sniffy if you don't have the hero's journey clearly delineated in your plot. So the idea that you can be original in a movie is a fairly moot point...

Aside from that, what are the seven basic plot lines that apparently underpin all stories?

Here goes:

1. The Quest

You've seen it a thousand times, especially in Fantasy stories. The hero must overcome obstacles, enlist the help of friends, defeat enemies, all in pursuit of some far off goal - usually the saving of the world - with the use of some magical artifact.

Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Apocalypse Now, Escape to Witch Mountain, the Narnia series, Conan, the list goes on...

2. Voyage and Return

Similar to the Quest model, the main difference being that the protagonist is taken from his 'real' world and thrust on a journey of wonder and self discovery in the pursuit of wisdom or psychological benefit.

The defeat of a monster (often a metaphor for the hero's failings) is a mainstay of this plot.

Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels, The Odyssey, Back to the Future, Wizard of Oz - even many horror stories use this same basic premise.

3. Rebirth

Otherwise known as the Hero's Journey, where a protagonist must learn that adherence to his or her past life and values will not help them grow, change or mature. The largely symbolic 'death' of the hero usually occurs at around the mid to three-quarter point in the story, from which he/she rises again, stronger, wiser and in control.

Again the antagonist, monster or bad circumstance is an analogy for the main character's initial problems.

Every comic book hero has rebirth at the core of their story.

Other examples include A Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Transformers, even most TV shows that feature crime solving (Law and Order, CSI, Monk etc) often contain the idea that solving the mystery leads to a mini rebirth at the end of each case.

4. Comedy

Comedy isn't always about what's funny. It's often about using the absurd to make observations about people at their worst. The best comedy uses its own internal logic to highlight inappropriate behavior that can lead to the the same kind of resolution as the rebirth idea. Wisdom through experience etc.

Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying, When Harry Met Sally and many other rom coms, most TV sitcoms: The Big Bang, Two and Half Men, The Office etc.

5. Tragedy

Usually centers around a high status character who forced is into a situation where they are downtrodden and the important things in their life are taken from them. Often this is used as a starting point for a story - leading to revenge, justice, enlightenment, liberation etc.

True tragedy has no resolution - only the realization that self importance can lead to pity, a sense of futility and death. Clearly not the kind of story that sells well these days!

Much of Shakespeare is tragic: Hamlet, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, but also The Godfather series, The Sopranos, even House, etc.

6. Overcoming the Monster

In essence similar to the Voyage and Return plot except that the 'threat' comes from within the protagonist's world, as opposed to outside of it.

The hero must defeat real or imagined 'monsters' to re-establish the status quo - often by absorbing the 'evil' into their world view.

Twilight, indeed almost all vampire stories, Jekyll and Hyde, Jaws, James Bond stories, Hansel and Gretel, The Hannibal series etc.

And finally:

7. Rags to Riches

Often the hero is plucked from seeming obscurity and given great wealth and power only to have it taken from them. The story revolves around the protagonist's struggle to re-acquire their new status, through the defeat of a newfound set of obstacles.

Aladdin, Cinderella, Great Expectations, even stories like The Matrix and Harry Potter use this plot as a starting point.


I don't know about you but reading this list, it really does look like there's just one thread running through these seven basic plots.

And that is the idea that a story is about transformation.

And that unless a character is transformed in some way by the events they experience, then there is actually no story at all.

You may want to mix and match the above story plots into something you can use for your own fiction - why not? After all, it's what all great writers (and some not so great) have been doing since writing and storytelling began.

In Art, there's no such thing as copying, borrowing or theft.

There's really only re-interpretation by the individual.

And it's not about what you do - it's about how you do it, well or otherwise.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"If you want to find meaning, stop chasing after so many meaningless things." Taigu Ryokan

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Writing Down The Bones"
Writer's Quote by Will Durant

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Writing Down the Bones

Hope you're well and happy.

These things: health, perceived wealth, positive mental attitudes etc, are so important to your artistic lifestyle and your productivity.

The angst ridden artist rarely achieves much in his self imposed garret, whereas the joyful, purposeful artist who has the courage to let the world impress itself upon his emotions will find plenty to, in turn, express.

To business...

Last chance to take the Non-Fiction course (already receiving great reviews on FB!). Go here now:

non fiction course

To fiction...

Talking of reviews, people have been saying some lovely things about my book, Willow, recently. I'll be publishing the reviews on the PSI Kids Blogspot shortly.

One esteemed reader pointed out that all of my 'bad guys' are in fact, female. Something I hadn't noticed myself. Makes me wonder what that says about me...

Judge for yourself, here:
Keep Writing!



Writing Down the Bones

Rob Parnell

I've borrowed the title of this article from Natalie Goldberg - a great writing guru from the 70s and 80s with much of use to say to writers. If you find her books in secondhand stores or garage sales, grab them with both fists - they're a treasure.

I mention the title above because it provides a trigger for some writing advice I want to give you. Let me start at the beginning...

You may remember that I've been trying my hand at drawing a graphic novel for kids recently - and reading around the subject. One of the 'mentors' I found to study was Steve Lieber - a great comic book artist famous for his work on Batman, Superman, Buffy, Star Trek and Oscar winning The Road to Perdition.

I liked Steve's take on characterization and plotting. He said that the reason why Hollywood - and by inference the public - loves comic book stories is that the characters are so well drawn - not as in pencil drawn so much as in drawn as distinctive, individual - and easily recognizable 'types' - so early on in the story telling process.

He says that the artist has to do this for the sake of the reader. Simply because if the characters all look the same, the comic reader will get confused over who is who!

I think the same is true for writers of any kind of fiction, screenplays or whatever. You need to clearly define your characters so that the reader can identify who is who (and why you should care) quickly.

Plus, Steve says, when illustrating a plot, you need to amplify certain moments to make sure the reader gets the emotional beats of the story. Literally, in pictures, you make the graphics more expressive and give them more space.

The same I think is true for writing fiction - you need to pull your reader into the emotional beats and make sure they're impressive enough to be effective and memorable.

Lieber also suggests that you use an 'action line' when drawing people. This is a drawn line from the feet of the character to the middle of the head. It should expressive enough to suggest dynamic movement before you begin drawing the person.

I think this acts as a great metaphor in a story telling sense too.

Before you go about describing a character, you need to have in your mind the 'action line' - that is the motivation and the agenda of the character. This is reminiscent of the 'show don't tell' aspect of writing.

Characters are more effective when you show them in action - acting or reacting - than when they are merely described in some static, read distant, way.

Some degree of pre-visualization is always a good idea when you're writing. The author has to be able to see the things she is describing before effectively committing what she sees to words.

Indeed, it's clear in more amateur writing that the author often does not fully 'see' what she is describing - or at least does not express her vision with total veracity. And when that happens, readers feel dissatisfied with the writing without knowing why...

Better to see the story with crystal clarity in your mind - and merely describe what you see. And when you write, lose touch with reality and be fully present in the scene, was Natalie Goldberg's best advice.

Don't just write because it's nice to see words on the page.

Thoroughly immerse yourself in the imaginary world you're describing. See the locations. Be the characters. Know them intimately and know their actions, reactions, foibles, hangups etc in detail as you experience them. Feel the tension in the air. Live the moment.

Writing is not about the words. It's about what the words can convey.

Similarly, comics and movies are not just about pretty - or indeed ugly - pictures. They're about the emotional impact on the viewer.

Writing is the same.

When you move a reader to experience an emotion - or at least a reaction, whether that is pleasure, revulsion, anticipation, enlightenment, satisfaction, whatever, then you move away from being a mere writer into the nebulous world of authorship.

In any art form, craftsmanship comes first. (Or should that be craftspersonship nowadays?)

Knowing your craft is about using your tools effectively.

When drawing, you need to know about shape and form, light and dark before you can create recognizable objects and people.

The same is true of writing. You need to study words, grammar, punctuation - the shape and form of words. You need to perfect your writing style - the light and dark of communicating ideas, before you can truly express what you want to say.

'The Bones' that Natalie refers to are the bits the reader doesn't see - and shouldn't see. Just like you usually don't see the preparatory marks an artist makes when constructing a drawing.

But without those marks, the bones, the person won't look real.

To summarize and conclude, the characters won't come alive in your story unless you know them, and draw them, from the inside out.

I hope this little analogy helps you.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance." Will Durant

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "On Me"
Writer's Quote by Wiiliam Ralph Inge

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Me - apologies for the indulgence...

Another special day today. It's the Opening Night of my self penned musical play: KOOL KAFE! Go here for details.

Kool Kafe poster

BUT - you know me. Never one to let the grass grow under my feet, I've been working on a new project. Namely, a graphic novel. Here's what I have so far:


It's early days of course. I just wanted to show you what I've been working on this week - in between tech rehearsals for the play!

Oh, and don't forget - you can still get a free copy of my latest novel. Just click on the piccy here:

Willow - free download

Go here to get your FREE copy of PSI-Kids: Willow.

Keep Writing!



On Me

Rob Parnell

Readers of this newsletter often tell me they enjoy me talking about myself. I hesitate to do it often. Less is more as they say. But once in a while I guess is okay...

People tell me I'm prolific and get a lot done. Well, first off, it doesn't feel that way to me - which probably explains why I seem to get a lot done!

I have this constant itch inside me that never feels I've done enough. Maybe I'll always have it.

I get bored often - I could be easily distracted - but luckily this character trait is countered by an insane need to get a project finished too.

I don't plan to get heaps done on a daily basis. Experience has taught me that doing just a little every day can mount up over time. To think I've written over 500 articles on writing in the last decade - a truckload of novels, screenplays, short stories and writing courses - and I still feel as if I haven't done anywhere near enough...

Call me obsessive. I've been accused of that. But, as I say, it doesn't feel that way to me.

I think I'm lazy, believe it or not.

I never liked working nine to five. When I left school I worked in a few factories for a while - and that was really awful. Talk about good grounds for suicide! I couldn't believe people actually dedicated themselves, day after day, to such depressing lives.

Maybe I was just unlucky. Dad was convinced my academic qualifications counted for nothing and, at barely eighteen, he got me a job in a chicken processing factory. God, the smell! It makes me gag now just to think of it...

Not to mention the awful cries of the poor chickens on their way to the 'electric conveyor of death.'

I lasted about a week and a half and promptly left home, never to return. I've often wondered whether that wasn't Dad's plan all along!

Anyway, after working in a cheese processing plant, a greenhouse construction factory and a job that required me to pick tools and bits of machinery out of a huge stock room for some mysterious purpose, I eventually realized that the office staff started work two hours later and finished earlier than the shop floor workers too.

I walked out on that job, and got another working for the local government social security department. I didn't get a desk but at least it was in the warm - and I learned quickly that all you had to do was carry a piece of paper and people thought you were busy...

Pretty soon I'd made up my mind to become a musician and a writer - anything to get away from the daily grind of soulless work.

I borrowed six hundred pounds from a kindly bank manager (which I'm sorry to say I never paid back) and I moved to London where I joined a rock band as a bass guitarist and started writing plays for the Royal Court Theater.

As luck would have it, I also signed the lease on a houseboat - where I lived on the Thames in Chelsea for almost a decade. Sweet.

That's how I got started on this creative path - in case you ever wanted to know.

I've been trying to live creatively ever since. Of course, every now and then I've been pressured back into 'proper' jobs, but even the good ones really only convinced me I wasn't destined to take that path.

The best job I ever had was working for London Underground as a contract administrator then manager for the Piccadilly Line - for all the wrong reasons of course. I loved my co-workers with a passion and spent many hours with them drunk out of my skull.

We even formed a rock band called the The One Unders and played covers for the staff at a Christmas party. Ah, rose-colored joy.

I don't drink anymore - I'm sure many of my previous co-workers will be shocked to hear that - and I think this is one of the reasons I get so much done now.

(Notice that neat little segue back into the topic of this article?)

I've always had this desire to create something out of nothing. Whether it's music, writing, art or whatever, I don't seem to be able to stop myself.

And being able to do it full time now is a dream come true.

I don't know whether I'll ever be as rich or famous as Dan Brown or JK or Stan Lee, but you never know...

I don't do what I do for fame and fortune. I do it because I can't do anything else well enough - like take orders for instance - to justify wasting my time on anything that isn't artistically creative.

If I have a life purpose, I'd like to think it's that I can act as an inspiration to young people who feel their artistic urges are not being encouraged or taken seriously.

In a material, money driven world, I'd like to be thought of as the guy who got that dream life - writing, creating, exploring possibilities - by just wanting it enough.

Too many people believe that their dreams are just that. Things to harbor, and unrealistic expectations that need to be quashed.

I want to show, no, prove, that this is not the case.

Your dreams are there to guide you - and to make you take the plunge - and follow your heart.

Do what you love first, and let the Universe work out the hows - and where the money comes to pay for it all, of course.

If you want to live your dreams, then don't worry so much would be my advice.

Do what I do.

Take it easy, have fun, and everything else will surely follow.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Literature flourishes best when it is half a trade and half an art." William Ralph Inge

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Give Away Your Fiction"
Writer's Quote by Lord Goodman

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Free Novel - PSI-Kids: Willow

Special day today. I'm giving away free copies of my latest novel!

Click on the image below:


Feel free to download it, read it, pass it on to your friends and family, send copies to people, link to it in emails, whatever. You can even let me know what you think of it!

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It's about a young girl's quest to find the murderer of her favorite magazine editor, Leo Forrester. Willow Barke is fifteen. She was orphaned shortly after her birth and doesn't know the identity of her parents - a scenario she isn't particularly happy about.

On her quest for justice, she engages the help of a thirteen year old psychic boy and a ghost called Rick. The three of them set out to track a psychopathic murderer who seems to be able to kill people - without actually being anywhere near them! Yikes!

Join Willow, Harley, Rick and a host of other fabulous characters on the super-thrilling adventure of a lifetime!

And prepare yourself for the stunning twist at the end!

Go here to get your FREE copy of PSI-Kids: Willow.

Keep Writing.



Who Are You Writing For?

Rob Parnell

I remember reading once that Irvine Welsh didn't initially write Trainspotting for public consumption. He wrote it for himself.

For a book that was so critically acclaimed and then went on to become an iconic movie, I found this a little hard to swallow - at first.

Now I think I understand what he meant.

It's hard to imagine why anyone would write a novel or a even collection of short stories unless the idea was for people to read them. But is one eye on the public detrimental to the integrity of your writing?

Certainly much of Trainspotting is confronting - and perhaps Irvine thought that nobody would want to read it - much less publish it. But I think what happened was that, without the psychological pressure of thinking about the reader, Welsh could let everything out - the truth in other words - about drug taking, modern Scottish morality and his fairly ambivalent - but perceptive - views on our society.

Indeed, when the book was published, it was Irvine's brutal honesty that impressed most critics - even though some thought it no more than salacious and exploitative, not to mention dangerous to young minds!

The point is, when writing fiction, should you write for the reader first - or for yourself?

Publishers claim that around 99% of the manuscripts they receive are unpublishable, for a variety of reasons.

Most are badly written - that's the biggest complaint. Wannabe authors tend to think that their first draft shines with genius - even though they often haven't bothered to edit it properly, do a series of re-writes or even get some informed feedback before firing it out as a submission.

That's fine - at least it makes the publisher's job easier. They reject these manuscripts quickly or, more often nowadays, simply bin them.

Of the 5% left, publishers often say they can rarely find one in a hundred that actually 'fits' into their list - that is, it doesn't coincide with their current marketing strategy, or, you're not famous enough for them to want to take the risk on a new novel.

Of the tiny minority left that the publishers actually do take on, there's still a good chance the books won't be successful enough to pay for their initial print runs.

Publishing is clearly a game of chance at the best of times!

Which is why the Internet is such a fabulous new medium for the author to exploit. Why?

1. You can write for yourself.

2. You can publish yourself.

3. You can reap the rewards without paying a publisher a cent.

Okay, so you may not sell a truckload of your books - but you might, if you catch the mood of the public in the right way.

But what you can do is build a following.

Douglas Clegg - around a decade ago - was a struggling author who had a blog before anyone knew what they were. He had a mailing list that he emailed his day's writing to - and basically just kept in touch with his fan base, as it was.

He wrote horror stories, long and short, submitted to publishers constantly but more importantly, he kept in touch with his readers.

Now, he's considered an A list author - which means you can buy his paperbacks in Target...

Never underestimate what the Net can do for you as a writer.

It may not be a get rich and famous quick answer - but there again, neither is anything else I can think of!

being a career writer is about being consistent and committed to the desired outcome - that is, to have readers eager to read your next book.

Even Hollywood knows now that the stars who use Twitter and Facebook are the ones that can command larger audiences to their films - and encourage young stars to get online - be human - and share their lives with the public (up to a point!)

I think authors should do the same - if only because people like to know you're a real person and that you care about your audience.

Plus, when you know what your readers want, you're more likely to be able to write what you want, without having to worry unnecessarily over what traditional publishers think readers want!

Write for yourself first. Don't do it for fame and fortune.

Do it because you love it - and want to share it with the world.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Literature flourishes best when it is half a trade and half an art." William Ralph Inge

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Give Away Your Fiction"
Writer's Quote by Lord Goodman

The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!