Article: Extract from The Craft of Fiction

Jonathan Falla Click here for more details of the book

Cover The Craft of Fiction
The Craft of Fiction

Finding stories
What makes for a good story? What can we point to and say: Any good story needs to contain, at least … Is it violence, or sex, or suspense, crime or danger? Surely not: these may be essential to a thriller, but there must be any number of wonderful novels in which we find none of these. Think of Jane Austen!
But when one does think of Jane Austen, one realizes that her novels are rather darker than we might at first suppose. In Sense & Sensibility, for example, the gorgeous Mr Willoughby is a seducer of young girls, little better than a rapist. Th ere is plenty of danger: young people fall from trees and seaside quays and lie in a coma near death, and there are crimes of deceit, fraud and seduction on all sides, with disgrace and destitution always a threatened penalty. Classic fiction is full of violence, crime and sex. We can at least say that, in a good story, the stakes must be high; there needs to be something worth fighting for. Stories need passion.
WORK POINT: think of the gentlest, quietest novel or story that you know. What passions are at its heart? What concerns propel the story?
Thirty six plots—or maybe twenty?
You will sometimes hear the claim that “there are just thirty six basic plots” and that all stories fit into one or other of these. This idea derives from a book by a 19th century French critic, Georges Polti, published in English in 1924, entitled The Thirty Six Dramatic Situations (note the distinction: what
Polti gives us are not plots, but situations) Polti said that he was developing the ideas of the 18th c. Venetian dramatis Carlo Gozzi. His list is on Wikipedia, and the full text of his book can be
seen on the Internet Archive—www.archive.org

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