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20 Master Plots and How to Build Them

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,078 ratings  ·  161 reviews
Give your story a solid foundation--a plot that engages readers from start to finish!

The best stories linger in the hearts and minds of readers for decades. These tales gain their power through plots that connect with the audience on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Inside Ronald B. Tobias details these 20 time-tested plots. Each is discussed and analyzed,
Paperback, 279 pages
Published January 12th 2012 by Writer's Digest Books (first published September 15th 1993)
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Published in 1993. The politics and world-view is dated, and the overt homophobia and ingrained Judeo-Christian moral sensibility are a little surprising. Likewise, the race and class issues are rampant, but the determined use of female and male pronouns in his examples is both welcome and sort of adorable in that "awww, early 90s! Look at you being inclusive!" way.

The plot examples from literature and film are very good. The world has changed a fair bit in 19 years, however, so the way he
Elf M.
Oct 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are dozens of books that promise to list out all of the plots possible. From Heinlien's famous three to George Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations , writers have been attempting to codify what makes a plot a plot.

Tobias' contribution is certainly in that same vein, but this is probably one of the weaker books in my "how to write" collection. The first hint that something is amiss is the cover, which has scenes from movies rather than books (although how you would illustrate a
Jakk Makk
Aug 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
There's something unreadable about this book. I don't hate it, but I've DNF'd this twice as a library book. I bought Aaron Allston's Plot Book instead. A new version or cover came out this year, maybe they improved the latest addition.

I liked it, but between "Plot" and this book, I feel there must be a better book on the subject. If it was great I would have poured over it again and again, instead I ran out of library time without revisiting it.
Sarah Bigelow
May 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-2014
I was considering rating this book three stars, but the pretty egregious misreading of The Sound and the Fury towards the end of the book changed my mind. Tobias clearly missed the point of more than one of his examples, which led me to question expertise.

Otherwise, the book is a pretty pedestrian introduction to plotting, with little consideration given to non-linear plots or character driven writing. He mentions it, of course, but he clearly is much more comfortable in the realm of your
Lise Petrauskas
Oct 26, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Update: I had to give up on this book. It seems aimed at writers of movie scripts and genre fiction. That's not to say the information isn't useful, but there's not as much as there should be and it is buried in a dross of simplistic statements such as these.: "As you develop a character, keep in mind your character's motivations." This book could be at minimum half its current length. The page count comes from blow by blow breakdowns of movies like Ben-Hur, Casablanca, and High Noon.

May 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
There are a lot of books trying to tell you how many plotlines there are in the world. There's the 36 Dramatic Situations, the three in the Basic Patterns of Plot, and the Seven Basic Plots. A wiki search could tell you about any one of these theories without having to buy the books.

Essentially, even though this book states intriguingly that there are 20 plot types, the author posits there are only 2: Mind versus Body, Character versus action. For example, the first two plotlines he gives is
Rebecca Schwarz
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As someone currently struggling with plotting a novel (quite different from plotting a short story, turns out), this book is quite useful. I found the introductory discussion clarifying and will be referencing the section outlining various flavors of plots for years to come.
K.A. Merikan
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, r-read
Fantastic. Simple, but inspiring. Great examples.
Nov 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I remember the first quarter of this book was pure gold (it didn't talked about any master plot yet).

But when said 20 master plots enter the fray, it doesn't work for me, because it's pretty much a checklist of strict rules. And nowadays many authors are just blending many plots in the main story, even if one of them gets the central stage. Also, sub-plots.

And some of the said plots didn't felt really unique or even different from another. This could've been worked much better. Some articles on
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although I enjoyed this book, I would actually recommend reading Plot and Structure by James C. Bell. In Bell’s book, he’s gets down to the nitty gritty. Once you read that, this book on Master Plots would be a supplement.

Tobias does not go into details about some things regarding plot elements. However, he does a great job with giving a bunch of examples of various type of plots.

One thing I appreciated after reading this book was that plot patterns were impressed into my brain so when I sat
Michael Lent
Saw this showcased on the local library shelf and decided to take it for a spin.

20MP doesn't break new ground so much as references some basic rules in a given genre. All-in-all, a decent refresher and tune-up with some good tips to keep in mind if you're starting a new project.
Kelsie Engen
"So the point of this book isn't so much to give you a rundown of twenty master plots, but to show you how to develop plots in fiction." Page 7, Kindle edition.

That quote pretty much sums up this book for me, and I think the author did a good job of providing his claimed intention. While I read a lot of criticism about this book saying that it was too narrowly defined or there were too many examples or other such things. The author goes out of his way to remind the reader that there are not a
Joy Pixley
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book made it seem prosaic and formulaic but wow, this is one of the best writing craft books I've read. It gave me great new insights into the difference between character-driven and plot-driven stories, and why some stories naturally fit more into a "literary" genre while others are naturally more "commercial." He goes into detail on the basics of the 20 major plots themselves, taking care to point out what the reader is likely to expect, and which story aspects to focus on ...more
Tori Crescent
Aug 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
The praise for this title eventually convinced me to overlook its $14+ price tag and take the plunge. Alas, I am unsure of how to feel about 20 Master Plots.

The first half of the book is strong, insightful, and made me think about certain elements I intuitively understood, but never consciously considered while writing. Numerous pages are highlighted for future reference and the front half of the book is well loved.

The second half--which contained the 20 plots--was a bit of a letdown. Some plots
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research, technical
Pretty darn good book about the basics of plot structure. The author is great at giving examples while not forcing any kind of idea that there is a hard and fast rule to be found in writing. The basic plots are laid out, examined and broken down into why they work without getting bogged down in what wouldn't work and countless examples. Short enough to move crisply, long enough to be a great primer, a great refresher, or as a reference material.

Great for the aspiring writer for a whole host of
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers
A simple breakdown of the phases of different types of plots and the different elements and types of characters one needs for each. As with many Writer's Digest books, the amount of content is skimpy for the price. However, I've never seen this material laid out in this way before, so the price was worth it to me.
Serena Yates
Excellent overview of different types of plot with good instructive examples. Interesting for both beginners and advanced writers, as well as for anyone who wants to know more about the kinds of stories they have encountered. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the history and uses of various story plots.
Lara Thompson
Better than many writing books for giving ideas but the author injects far too much morality without intending to. I'd wager he's religious from his diction. The twenty plots are a reasonable breakdown, arbitrary as he admits, with both classic and modern examples of each. I'll keep a copy as reference.
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Good for future reference, not that enlightening. Pretty basic, gave some good examples and a nice step by step to plots.
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
makes me wanna write :)
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a must-read for writers; especially, since the advent of social media affords people more agency to publish their own work—which isn’t to say that’s particularly meaningful as industry staples are still contingent upon gatekeepers, and systems wherein success is more quantifiable than qualifiable regarding stans or sales; but that’s another conversation for another day.

My point is that knowledge and intent are indispensable in a new world where our means of connectivity are largely
Emma Reid
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If you are like me and always wanted to write, but never felt that you were given enough instruction or are extremely intimidated by plot, then I highly recommend checking this out. Tons of good information, even if by the end it gets a little repetitive. If you are a more advanced or comfortable writer you probably won't get too much out of this, since it's content is beginner-oriented. I would, however, recommend checking it out from your library so that you can peruse the first few chapters ...more
Emily Irish
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The name made me think this book would be about formulas, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it had great insights and principles about plot on the whole. The introductory chapters were great; the 20 master plots themselves left something to be desired for me. He went in depth on a few of these chapters, but not as much as I would have hoped, given the introductory chapters. All in all, a solid read for writers, whether beginner or intermediate.
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was fantastic. The author details the different plot tips through all three stages of writing in a succinct fashion with lots of examples from literature and film. At the end of each chapter, he includes a checklist for reference. So much good stuff in here that it looks like my book was attacked by a slime monster - it's just covered in highlighter!
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Want to know a common plot that people resort to? Want to write within a plotline that is already established and not considered original?

Want inspiration or guidance on what to right or what may interest you?

This is the book for you. Bored? Give this a read. It'll get the brain moving again and let you look at entertainment from a different angle.
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Very helpful catalogue of plots for a character-driven writer. I appreciated parts of the other "advice" chapters, as well, although I found them in general less to my own purpose. I wish the author had used more examples of fantasy, children's and newer works, but still found the principles helpful.
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best parts were right at the beginning. Not sure I got all that I was looking for with this book. Worth reading, though. Learned some things, and there is always value to be gleaned from books about the craft of writing. But will it influence the way I construct stories going forward? Maybe. I don't know.
C. L. Phillips
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good reference book for when you're working on a story and need to figure out what path your characters are on. Sometimes you know, and sometimes you don't. When you don't know where they're headed, this book serves as a map, or a at least a list of guide posts.
Matthew Merkovich

This book was middling for me. It had no revelatory ideas. Usually in books like this there will be one stand out lesson, but I didn’t find anything that stood out at all in this one. I’m neither mad nor glad I read it.
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Ronald B. Tobias has spent his career as a writer moving from genre to genre, first as a short story writer, then as an author of fiction and nonfiction books and finally as a writer and producer of documentaries for public television. He is currently a professor in the Department of Media and Theatre Arts at Montana State University.
“Plot is a chain of cause-and-effect relationships that constantly create a pattern of unified action and behavior. Plot involves the reader in the game of “Why?” 1 likes
“This shared common experience is the basis for fiction. The plot of transformation deals with the process of change in the protagonist as she journeys through one of the many stages of life. The plot isolates a portion of the protagonist’s life that represents the period of change, moving from one significant character state to another. The key word” 0 likes
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