Need A Plot? Experts Recycle Them

By Leonard Bishop, Author of Dare To Be A Great Writer

      There are three reference books that all unpublished (and many already published) writers must own: One Hundred Non-Royalty One-Act Plays (Grosset and Dunlap), 101 of the World’s Greatest Books (Greystone Press) and 101 Plots, Used and Abused (The Writer, Inc.)  They are an invaluable source of ideas for the unpublished writer.

The ‘romantic notions’ taught about fiction in the university writing classes must be demythologized.  Brought into reality.  All fiction writing is invented.  It is an interpretation of experience written as though the writer has lived that experience.  When an unpublished writer tells me, “I don’t know how to invent stories, plot situations, or interesting techniques,”  I always answer, “If you can’t invent, then adopt another writer’s invention.”  The writer is always shocked and shouts, “That’s dishonorable.  It’s plagiarism!”

If you are not lifting another writer’s prose and claiming it as your own, you are not plagiarizing.  Stories, dramatic situations and writing techniques are in the public domain.

Nothing original has been written since some prehistoric story teller carved fictionalized history on the walls of a cave.  Originality is not a publishing demand.  You are required only to write publishably.  Any effort beyond that might be judged as “art” and, by today’s publishing standards, that is not always publishable.

Studying the classics to learn about writing is futile.  Dostoevsky, Joyce, Dickens, Tolstoy are great because they probed and interpreted human experience.  Their storylines were simplistic, their plots predictable, their techniques minimal.  You must adopt and adapt from the professional hacks of today.  They are inventive.

Writers like Robbins, Wallace, Daniel Steel, Barbara Courtland, Janet Daily, seem to have their content dictated to them by the spirits of retarded lemmings.  Thus, they use elaborate storylines, panoramic plots, and razzle-dazzle techniques to conceal their nonsense.  Ignore their barfy content and adapt their innovative writing methods.

How are some bestsellers brought into existence today?

Some publishing executives and editors confer to discuss ideas.  One genius suddenly snaps a finger and bellows, “I have it!”

“The time is ripe for a novel about some neurotic medical student who kills two women.  The crime remains unsolved.  A detective who dabbles in psychology suspects the student but he has no proof.  He determines that the killer has a compulsion to confess.  He becomes friendly with the student.  Slyly draws him out.  In time the medical student confesses and is imprisoned.  The killer is happy because his guilt is expiated.  The detective feels redeemed for his efforts.  Do you see it?  Do you feel it?  It’s an eleven hour television mini-movie, a 40-million reprint sale, it’s ultra fantastic.”

The executives and editors huzzah and hallelujah.  “Great.  Perfect for Howard Fast.  Quick, check the office to see if it’s bugged.  Let’s get it into print before someone steals it.  Fast has too much integrity.  Joan Didion.  Too female.  Maybe Michener.  No, he’s too big.  Higgins, he’s great on adventure.”

Eventually the novel is written and published and often it is a mega-seller and the public rarely realizes they are re-reading Crime and Punishment.

There may be honor among thieves, but honor is not an often used word in modern publishing.

( first published June 17, 1984 The Manhattan Mercury)

©by Leonard Bishop

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