Blog - July 30,2012

Disney, Lucas, Rowling and plussing

In planning the plot for my second novel in The 8th Mayan Prophecy series, I wracked my brain trying to come up with a plot that wasn’t trite or overused – eternal glory, eternal life, unlimited power, fighting the fates, etc. Unfortunately, since the first human put paint on a cave wall, an Egyptian put ink to a smashed papyrus leaf or the Greeks put the written word to parchment, every possible plot has been used an infinite number of times.

So, I Googled “the basic plot lines” of literature. Much to my surprise, I found there are: one plot, three plots, seven plots, 20 plots and finally 36 to choose from depending on various writers’ points of view.

Great! That should make it easier.

The “one basic plot” is conflict, which if you think of it is the basis for every great story. Without conflict you simply have something as exciting as watching someone painting a fence. The other end of the spectrum, the 36 plot lines, are way too numerous to cover here, and as exciting as watching that newly painted fence dry. Besides, most are simple variations of one another.

However, there was a list of seven that seemed to fit every book or movie I’ve ever seen or read. The quick list is:
            1. Overcoming the monster – think Predator or Alien or Predator vs. Alien  
            2. Rags to riches – think Annie, Aladdin, Cinderella
            3. The quest – Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the plot used in my first novel –                              not Monty Python or the Holy Grail but the quest)
            4. Voyage and return – The Odyssey, The Wizard of OZ, Gulliver’s Travels
            5. Comedy – Don Quixote, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Dante’s Inferno (just kidding)
            6. Tragedy – Macbeth, Scarface
            7. Rebirth – Mega Mind, A Christmas Carol.

Of course any and all of these seven can be intertwined to create an even more involved story. Now being the smart people you are (I can tell, because you’re reading my blog) you probably noticed, conflict is inherent and essential to every one of these.

After reading the lists, which still didn’t help clarify my direction, I decided to look at some of my favorite books and movies, and the people responsible for making them so memorable to see what plot lines they preferred –Walt Disney, George Lucas and JK Rowling.

What was Walt Disney’s favorite plot line? Well, in his Mickey cartoons, he used them all: Giantland – monster and rags to riches, The Gallopin’ Gaucho – the quest (Mickey, it seems, was always on a quest to save Minnie), Gulliver Mickey – voyage and return, The Prince and the Pauper – rebirth, and of course, comedy was the byword in every one – Walt was always asking for more “gags.” (Yeah, I know Tragedy isn’t listed here – hey, it’s a cartoon. Although, Looney Tunes did use tragedy it in What’s Opera, Doc?)

When Walt decided to make his first full-length feature cartoon he drew on the classics: Snow White, overcoming the monster that was Maleficent. Cinderella – the ultimate rags to riches story. Pinocchio – a story of voyage and return, while Sleeping Beauty was about rebirth. And of course Bambi and the tragedy that was his mother being killed by Man. Once again, comedy was infused into a number of these movies – the Seven Dwarfs, Jiminy Cricket, the mice in Cinderella, etc.

So if he used every plot available, what set Walt’s movies apart from everyone else who had the same limitations?

It was in his unique ability to tell the story in more complete and thus more believable detail. He called it “plussing” (adding all the little, extra-special details.) And he "plussed” everything he touched, from his cartoons to his full-length features but especially in his theme parks. His knack for bringing the story to life through his magnificent story telling, inspired the artists who worked for him to better visualize and understand the depth of what they were about to put on film and “plus” it. His, and therefore, their, attention to detail is what made WED exceptional and set it apart from all of its competitors.

George Lucas on the other hand used “overcoming the monster” (The Galactic Empire) as his main story line throughout the Star Wars saga. (An aside – I still think of Star Wars as a cowboy movie that happens to take place in outer space, but that’s another story.) Of course the timeworn story of good verses evil, the ultimate conflict, was front and center as was the rebirth of Anakin Skywalker.

While in his Indiana Jones series the theme was the quest – the lost ark, the sacred stones, the Holy Grail and the meaning of the Crystal Skull. All of these drew heavily on the serials that were played before the main features he watched while growing up in So-Cal. (Yes, kids, there used to be two feature films, a couple of cartoons, and a serial shown in the same one-room theater in a single afternoon. Talk about your built-in baby sitter. But I digress.)

So what set this plot(s) apart from everybody else who set their stories in outer space, from the Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon serials to TV shows like Lost in Space and Rocky Jones - Space Ranger, and yes, even the original Star Trek TV series or movies like The Angry Red Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still or It, the Terror From Outer Space?

Once again, it’s that he was able to create a new world that captured our imaginations by “plussing” the scenes. The star ships had much greater detail, the bar scene’s details made you feel as if you had just entered a local bar – albeit a strange one, or the use of “light sabers” as weapons instead of guns or swords, but the “plus” that sticks out in my mind was the scene where the Millennium Falcon jumped to light-speed. All of these “little elements” gave us something beyond what we had ever experienced before. Movies have never been the same since.

As for JK Rowling, she took a simple plot line – a combination of Voldemort’s quest for eternal life and Harry’s need to slay the monster – and incorporated it throughout all seven books and eight movies. Witches and wizards have been around for a couple millennia, so why was she so much more successful in bringing them to life than those who attempted to do this before her?

If you’ve been following along you know the answer. It was her attention to detail or plussing, much like Walt Disney and George Lucas. She colored her books with the small and the large, from memorable spells to a creative new game, Quidditch, to a quest – some would say predetermined or fateful – that had millions of fans excited and thrilled to see what was going to happen next.

Despite having virtually the same plot run through every book, and thus every movie, she added new twists and turns along the way. I particularly loved the way she would mention something in an earlier novel that seemed insignificant only to find it was a critical detail in a later one. Sirius is mentioned in the first book only to turn up as the escaped convict and Harry’s Godfather two novels later. Harry’s ability to communicate with snakes is little more than a cute story device to get back at Dudley in the Sorcerer’s Stone (sorry, UK, Philosopher’s Stone) only to find out this “gift” has significant, if not diabolical, meaning in The Chamber of Secrets. Then you have Harry wondering if Snape can read minds in the first novel only to realize in The Order of the Phoenix that he indeed can.

Speaking of Snape, Rowling pulled us forward through seven novels before she finally explained why he truly disliked Harry so much. Others that come to mind off the top of my head are: Scabbers who appears to be nothing more than a very old pet rat until we find he is an Animagus in The Prisoner of Azkaban, while Harry comes across the vanishing cabinet in book two only to have it reappear in book six as a major element, or the necklace used by Malfoy in his attempt to kill Dumbledore is also mentioned in Chambers in that exact same scene and then makes its reappearance in The Half-Blood Prince, as well. And finally, Harry hides the potions book in the room of requirement, and marks it with a bust and a tiara in The Half-Blood Prince in case he ever needs to find it again, only to realize in the last book, The Deathly Hallows, that it contained a much needed horcrux. (It drove me absolutely crazy that Steve Klovis changed this in the movie.)

Anyway, talk about your plussing!

All that being said, it still didn’t help me with my dilemma as to which plot line to go with, although it did help with the idea of “plussing” my books. So we’re, more specifically, I am right back where I started. What plot line should I use in the second book in The 8th Mayan Prophecy series, Windwalkers?

I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.

 

The 8th Mayan Prophecy by Robert G. Peterson
The 8th Mayan Prophecy
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