Tuesday, April 3, 2012

13 Mixing the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations to Create Something Fresh

"Every story has already been told. Once you've read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had." ~ Anna Quindlen

Depending on which usually-long-dead expert you want to listen to, there are anywhere from two to sixty-nine types of story, but no two writers will ever tell them the same way. Even if you were to follow a formula, there are so many different components to storytelling that it couldn't be entirely the same as someone else's. And that's a good thing, a great thing, because we bring something of ourselves into every story, our own voice, our own perspectives, our own issues to explore. We lean more toward dialogue or introspection. We write in long, leisurely sentences as smooth as chocolate on the tongue, or in quick, efficient prose like goosebumps. Our characters are themselves as well as our mothers, our friends, our enemies.

Every book we write is also a living bookshelf of every book we've ever read. The words of our mentors and the faces of the beloved friends we've laughed with and cried with haunt our pages like shadows beneath our sentences.

So, since we are all unique, we shouldn't be afraid to mix it up.

One of the things I've read in various posts and heard at conferences lately, is that readers (including agents and editors) are looking for new things, new blends of genres rather than variations of what's already out there.

I wonder how much room there is for Paranormal Sci-Fi? How about Sci-Fi Mystery? Think of the books that have really broken out. They always add something completely new to the mix.

A great place to start thinking about your next novel or short story idea is Georges Polti's list of Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. You can read the English translation of his book, or get a quick and dirty list:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirty-Six_Dramatic_Situations

The list basically even writes your one sentence pitch for you, all you have to do is fill in your own characters and your own situation. But is that going to be enough to get your story to shine?

What about mixing up how you tell it? Add mystery elements, or thriller elements, or paranormal elements (no vampires though), or elements of magical realism, or speculative fiction, or whatever strikes your fancy. Think outside the confines of the books you've already read. What can you come up with.

I'd love to hear your new blends. Let's see how creative we can get!

Happy plotting,

Martina

13 comments:

  1. I think it's true that the stories we create are unique takes on what's already out there. But they are unique because of our own unique creative ideas. My first manuscript is a fantasy but also has a mystery too. Your suggestions are interesting to think about. How about a mystery/dystopian or a dystopian/fantasy?

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    1. I love the mystery dystopian. You could make that so much fun with each element contributing to the other!

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  2. What a great idea, and thanks for the link!
    Wagging Tales

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    1. My pleasure. I love going through that list. : )

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  3. It's so true that every story has been told, but we can always add our unique ingredients to create something completely new. Thanks for the link. It's a great way to get ideas flowing.

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  4. I took a class once that struck upon this same issue. And the difference is the writer brings their own personal context to the story, which creates a different reading experience. I agree that it's an exciting time right now with all this borrowing from different genres -- but I hope they are chosen and executed carefully in stories, not there just to chase another trend.

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    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The thing that I hate about trends is that they are truly, in my opinion at least, horrible for the industry. While every editor and publishing house is desperate for a XXX or a YYY to meet the trend, the books aren't necessarily going to be quality and long-lived. That's where I hope the distinction will ultimately lie between self-pub and traditional publishing. With self-pub, readers dying for vampires and zombies, or whatever, can go and download as many of them as they want right away. I would hope that traditionally published books would start leaning toward those with a longer shelf-life. Pipedream, right? :D

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  5. How about a sci-fi ballet novel for a new blend? Going to check out the 36 link.

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    1. OOOOOH. Prosthetic limbs? Super-enhanced flexibility? Higher jumps? Yes. Yes! Love it.

      Miss you!!!!! I finally decided I can't come to LA this summer. I'm going to have withdrawels! :<

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  6. This is very useful as I brainstorm a new book idea. Thanks! :)

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    1. Hope you find something that sparks your immagination!

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  7. Great article. I am reformatting my novel into a creative non-fiction autobiographical anthology. I have written a fiction screen play loosely based on one chapter resulting in a thriller/horror/crime drama called Cheaters, Sinners and Saints that I will try to push this summer.

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