20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them – A Review

IMG_303520 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B Tobias
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think it’s safe to say that I am in love with this book.

Ronald B. Tobias’s craft book, “20 Master Plots and How to Build Them” takes an approachable and wizened tone to the subject of plot and plot-doctoring. At no point is the craft “preached” or laid out as hard-set rules to follow (indeed, he hastens, on many occasions, to remind us that the book only offers patterns).

The tone makes the text approachable, and the layout of the book is logical, concise, full of literary examples to illustrate points, and not at all gimmicky.

The twenty plots examined by Tobias include Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, The Rivalry, The Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension, and Descension. Each come with three or four literary or cinematic examples to help get the point across, and a checklist at the end to help “guide you” back on target. The text can be read cover to cover or piecemeal, however you plan to use it.

I personally recommend reading the book with a story already in mind. By the time I got to Chapter Five, I had so many new ideas for writing that I almost put it down… I’m glad I didn’t, because in Chapter Thirteen, I was hit by another plot twist that basically fixed a lot of my tension issues in the outline.

This book not only helped me understand some of the fundamentals that are not inherently obvious, but did the most important task of all: got me psyched to start writing!

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As an FYI for authors out there who don’t quite have a budget at the moment, the book has a free companion PDF that includes all of the checklists for the various plots. You can access that PDF here.

10 thoughts on “20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them – A Review

  1. I think it’s awesome. Plot is my biggest challenge, and I find that I stick to short works to avoid the issue. But this sounds helpful, and finally writing something longer than an essay sounds like a good New Year’s resolution. I’m definitely going to buy that book, and maybe one for my daughter, too.

    Thank you for your concern and kind words. We’re still in temporary housing, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. At least as far as my home goes. But, do you know how freaking cold it is here?

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  2. This sounds like an excellent book! Thanks for sharing your review of it. This one will definitely be added to my to-read list.

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    1. I believe he writes primarily for screen (TV shows), so he may not be credited fully for his work. It’s published by Writer’s Digest though, if that helps (I know their books are hit-and-miss).

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  3. PDF attained! My budget is tight these days but I do appreciate the ability to get craft suggestions without having to break the bank. If I like what I read in the freebie, I’ll definitely add the book to my want-list

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    1. It’s AMBER! Wow, I got super excited when I saw your name. Followed your blog! I really liked it as a basic “Structural” book, to help me set the course, so to speak. 🙂 I’m definitely going to be checking out the 45 Master Characters book as well. ^__^

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  4. Great review, Alex! I just added this to my Goodreads TBR list / wishlist, because it sounds like a great resource for finding ideas for different kinds of stories other than the Hero’s Journey. That’s something I’d like to experiment with for future stories. 🙂

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