top100- stock plot devices for important works of literature

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Inspired by top100- stock plot devices for children's action/adventure cartoons and by a lot of recent deja vu reading Important Novels.

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 04:41 (fourteen years ago) link

1. Spoiled rich naif out on his/her own with no income is inexorably lapsing into debt to unsavory characters.

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 04:42 (fourteen years ago) link

2. THAT hasty marriage to someone they knew for five minutes was a horrible disaster, but THIS one will be a smashing success because the person in question is slightly plainer/poorer/less rogueish etc.

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 04:43 (fourteen years ago) link

3. Previously-unmentioned fatuous and pretentious artist/poet/dancer/composer is suddenly thrown into the cast by fiat (ie, someone throws them a debut party). Existing subplots are catalyzed by his/her meddling.

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 04:48 (fourteen years ago) link

4. "But, you see, until we got divorced, I didn't know how I really felt about you."

thomp, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:33 (fourteen years ago) link

5. person of advanced level of education feeling vague dissatisfaction with life meets person from lower socioeconomic group with actual problems

5a they have sex
5b they bro down
5c they hate each other
5d they embark upon a spree of crime

etc

thomp, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:35 (fourteen years ago) link

6. Will he still be the same Humperdinck she once knew after all these years?

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:39 (fourteen years ago) link

7. Americans in Europe, eh? Funny thing.

thomp, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:40 (fourteen years ago) link

8. Europeans in the developing world, eh? Etc.

thomp, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:40 (fourteen years ago) link

6a. Yes, but this consistency only highlights her own changes.
6b. Yes, neither of them has changed a bit which is even more pathetic.

xposts

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:41 (fourteen years ago) link

9. Most of book consists of impossibly-detailed and lucid accounts in journal entries or letters, all of which survived perfectly to be compiled by the author.

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:43 (fourteen years ago) link

(Worst offender: Dracula, where everybody writes in the same exact style and enormous energy has to be spent making the whole thing plausible, ie, "Well, I know I'm traumatised and short of blood after that vampire attack, but I promised Betsy I would try to keep a better journal so, here goes!")

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 12 December 2009 16:44 (fourteen years ago) link

10. Add Holocaust references/survivors to give unearned gravitas to lightweight plot

Attention please, a child has been lost in the tunnel of goats. (James Morrison), Sunday, 13 December 2009 04:39 (fourteen years ago) link

11. pretty peasant girl gets a taste of the aristocratic life, cannot forget

囧 (dyao), Sunday, 13 December 2009 04:53 (fourteen years ago) link

some uncertain song or a dream coalesces into a bright present before fading into oblivion

THE SAIYANS ARE A PROUD WARRIOR RACE (Lamp), Sunday, 13 December 2009 04:55 (fourteen years ago) link

a man stands in shadows and watches others dance

THE SAIYANS ARE A PROUD WARRIOR RACE (Lamp), Sunday, 13 December 2009 04:56 (fourteen years ago) link

people are cruel and wound each other even when they want love more than anything else

THE SAIYANS ARE A PROUD WARRIOR RACE (Lamp), Sunday, 13 December 2009 04:56 (fourteen years ago) link

thematically similar things happen to groups of people all at once, all on spacehships

THE SAIYANS ARE A PROUD WARRIOR RACE (Lamp), Sunday, 13 December 2009 04:57 (fourteen years ago) link

nothing really happens its all made up your own hands are like strangers when they touch

THE SAIYANS ARE A PROUD WARRIOR RACE (Lamp), Sunday, 13 December 2009 05:00 (fourteen years ago) link

unreliable narrator is unreliable

囧 (dyao), Sunday, 13 December 2009 05:02 (fourteen years ago) link

Bloke goes mad, stabs his bird.

Soukesian, Sunday, 13 December 2009 22:06 (fourteen years ago) link

hahaha those are all great

19. At last, the reading of that old codger's will! All my problems will be over once I inherit everyth---WHAAAAT?!

Doctor Casino, Monday, 14 December 2009 11:25 (fourteen years ago) link

Broke young gloomy clever man thinks a bit too hard about things, goes mad/kills self/kills other.

Parenthetic hound (woofwoofwoof), Monday, 14 December 2009 11:47 (fourteen years ago) link

broke young gloomy clever man

tempted to use this as username

thomp, Monday, 14 December 2009 13:46 (fourteen years ago) link

21. Things were different, before the war.

thomp, Monday, 14 December 2009 13:47 (fourteen years ago) link

22. Glib Americans are touched and made to consider life seriously by things that happen somewhere in the developing world, while on business trip/holiday/kidnapping/etc

thomp, Monday, 14 December 2009 13:47 (fourteen years ago) link

23. "I think it'll help our marriage to move out here, away from the city... Could you stop doing that please? It's annoying."

Parenthetic hound (woofwoofwoof), Monday, 14 December 2009 14:12 (fourteen years ago) link

three weeks pass...

24. Alienated loner isn't sad when mother dies; wonders about this

stet, Thursday, 7 January 2010 04:27 (fourteen years ago) link

25. Teenagers: when it's your first crime of passion, it's poignant (bonus pts for murder)

stet, Thursday, 7 January 2010 04:29 (fourteen years ago) link

26. Wherein snow is a metaphor for the spirit being sapped by this godawful war.

stet, Thursday, 7 January 2010 04:30 (fourteen years ago) link

27. Sensitive, bookish girl/woman, morally superior and with an acute sense of character, is treated harshly or ignored in a world where pushy, shallow, solipistic people get all the money/recognition/attractive men etc. Minor vindication at the end doesn't altogether compensate.

frankiemachine, Thursday, 7 January 2010 14:46 (fourteen years ago) link

28. Narrator is just kind of living out the rest of his days in cabin/mountains/small flat in lonely city where the past is just a long narrative flashback.

pithfork (Hurting 2), Sunday, 10 January 2010 05:30 (fourteen years ago) link

29. Protagonists' building troubles reach climax just as whole city burns to the ground, providing backdrop.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 10 January 2010 05:42 (fourteen years ago) link

alternatively:

30. protagonists' troubles with each other heading for climax at exactly same moment as their troubles with unrelated minor characters do same. Fortunately all will be present at tonight's dinner party!

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 10 January 2010 19:23 (fourteen years ago) link

31. All the dramas, grudges, and resentments from their youth (ie the first one-third to one-half of the book you've invested yourself in reading) just don't seem to matter anymore, after the war/the fire/Mother's death/getting old.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 10 January 2010 20:10 (fourteen years ago) link

32. important/lost journal is found, narrator offers to translate for us

Player is killed, but they are resurrected, and the 45 Revolver glow gold (dyao), Monday, 11 January 2010 02:04 (fourteen years ago) link

32a. as translation progresses, regular narrator is either driven mad by the process, or reveals previously hidden quirks and prejudices, leading us back to #17 "unreliable narrator is unreliable"

Doctor Casino, Monday, 11 January 2010 02:55 (fourteen years ago) link

33. ppl make good decisions about their lives

Lamp, Monday, 11 January 2010 03:14 (fourteen years ago) link

5. person of advanced level of education feeling vague dissatisfaction with life meets person from lower socioeconomic group with actual problems

5a they have sex
5b they bro down
5c they hate each other
5d they embark upon a spree of crime

This stock plot device speaks to my interests. Suggestions? Lower socioeconomic class not required.

smashing aspirant (milo z), Monday, 11 January 2010 03:29 (fourteen years ago) link

34. Protagonist with opaque but presumed lowly origins has strikingly noble moral character, particularly sense of fairness and courage. He/she is despised by powerful characters on the make, much of this apparently gut hatred for someone made of finer stuff than themselves; but attracts the admiration and unquestioning loyalty of a few good but powerless people. Following a number of harrowing experiences there is a revelation that he/she is of noble blood (thus noble character explained!(*)) and heir to a golden inheritance. His enemies are confounded, and his friends far, far more pleased for him/her than they could ever be for themselves.

(*) curiously this revelation of blood-as-destiny is still a popular device in kid's fiction and fantasy even among writers who consider themselves as being on the left - see Rowling, Pullman, as well as any number of sorts of swords and sorcery types.

frankiemachine, Monday, 11 January 2010 10:42 (fourteen years ago) link

35. how the author stand-in becomes a writer

abanana, Friday, 22 January 2010 13:44 (fourteen years ago) link

The "person of advanced level of education" one is kind of the same, but I can't believe no one has mentioned "middle-aged English professor has sex with one or more nubile undergraduates"!

Dan I., Friday, 22 January 2010 16:51 (fourteen years ago) link

i was definitely including that

thomp, Friday, 22 January 2010 17:14 (fourteen years ago) link

the Roth Gambit

Dan I., Friday, 22 January 2010 17:19 (fourteen years ago) link

five months pass...

37. As her world continues to spiral down around her, society woman increasingly contemplates prospects of marrying rich but boring suitor, who then ironically rejects her. (37a: suitor is also a wily, scheming Jew)

Doctor Casino, Thursday, 15 July 2010 13:15 (thirteen years ago) link

38. As everything is coming to a head, a minor character, unrelated to the drama, wanders into the frame to be fatally shot by the protagonist for no real reason. Now there is no turning back.

Doctor Casino, Thursday, 15 July 2010 13:19 (thirteen years ago) link

30. First-person narrator's realizing his own shallowness and gullibility.

I'm never gonna do it without the Lex on (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 15 July 2010 13:25 (thirteen years ago) link

Er, #39

I'm never gonna do it without the Lex on (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 15 July 2010 13:25 (thirteen years ago) link

40. Dog or cat or other pet is killed horribly to make some point about callousness of modern world or character, as author hasn't got the balls to kill a human character

The great big red thing, for those who like a surprise (James Morrison), Thursday, 15 July 2010 23:05 (thirteen years ago) link

http://www.aasd.k12.wi.us/staff/boldtkatherine/images/oldyeller.jpg

scott seward, Thursday, 15 July 2010 23:23 (thirteen years ago) link

Narrator gets his sometime sweetie pregnant, says something callous, can't reach her for days, she finally shows up and castigates him loud and long, he says something even more callous, and we return to the 'real' plot

progressive cuts (Tracer Hand), Monday, 19 July 2010 13:10 (thirteen years ago) link

42. "New York, August 1974: a man is walking in the sky. Between the newly built Twin Towers, the man twirls through the air. Far below, the lives of complete strangers spin towards each other: Corrigan, a radical Irish monk working in the Bronx; Claire, a delicate Upper East Side housewife reeling from the death of her son; Lara, a drug-addled young artist; Gloria, solid and proud despite decades of hardship; Tillie, a hooker who used to dream of a better life; and Jazzlyn, her beautiful daughter raised on promises that reach beyond the skyline of New York. In the shadow of one reckless and beautiful act, these disparate lives will collide, and be transformed for ever."

http://www.bloomsbury.com/books/details.aspx?isbn=9781408801185

I have heard this book is terrific but this sounds like the most by-numbers assemblage of Great American Novel signifiers imaginable. Jazzlyn!

Matt DC, Monday, 19 July 2010 15:26 (thirteen years ago) link

Narrator gets his sometime sweetie pregnant, says something callous, can't reach her for days, she finally shows up and castigates him loud and long, he says something even more callous, and we return to the 'real' plot

See also man gets girlfriend pregnant, worries heaps about future but does fuck-all, but then she has a miscarriage so everything's OK for our hero

The great big red thing, for those who like a surprise (James Morrison), Tuesday, 20 July 2010 01:33 (thirteen years ago) link

38. As everything is coming to a head, a minor character, unrelated to the drama, wanders into the frame to be fatally shot by the protagonist for no real reason. Now there is no turning back.

What books are you thinking of? Closest I can think of is The Stranger.

Mosquepanik at Ground Zero (abanana), Tuesday, 20 July 2010 01:43 (thirteen years ago) link

Had just seen it in SPOILER ALERT The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole, but I'm sure I've encountered it before...

Doctor Casino, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 13:37 (thirteen years ago) link

43. stream of consciousness with lots of commas + slang used to establish authenticity of character

dyao, Wednesday, 21 July 2010 00:50 (thirteen years ago) link

five years pass...

44. A long fever, breaking on the third/fourth day, with love interest or devoted sibling watching sleeplessly by the bedside the whole way.

Doctor Casino, important war pigeon (Doctor Casino), Monday, 18 January 2016 03:02 (eight years ago) link

45. A wily, scheming Jew is more complex than you thought

on entre O.K. on sort K.O. (man alive), Monday, 18 January 2016 03:05 (eight years ago) link

46. Noble but tragically weak male character stoically weathers marriage to a conniving/manipulative/evil woman (46a stoically weathers the batterings of a conniving/manipulative/evil ex-wife)

on entre O.K. on sort K.O. (man alive), Monday, 18 January 2016 03:09 (eight years ago) link

47. Person living under brutal dictatorship is just kinda chillin, but a relative or friend quietly disappears.

on entre O.K. on sort K.O. (man alive), Monday, 18 January 2016 06:57 (eight years ago) link

48. Last civilized man of kulcha stopping the barbarians at the gates.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 18 January 2016 13:11 (eight years ago) link

49. Lots of chance encounters, for the fun of it.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 18 January 2016 13:12 (eight years ago) link

Mind-blisteringly complex genealogy of protagonist must be excavated in a shaggy-dog journey through multiple countries that demonstrates the contingency of identity and the hottness of foreign ladies

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Monday, 18 January 2016 13:27 (eight years ago) link

#37 I recognize from somewhere - Edith Wharton?

on entre O.K. on sort K.O. (man alive), Monday, 18 January 2016 15:14 (eight years ago) link

how about

51. The louder, more bombastic, superficially interesting suitor is actually a bore or a boor, and the quiet, in-the-background one is the real catch.

51a: the first suitor marries the less refined sister and all is well

on entre O.K. on sort K.O. (man alive), Monday, 18 January 2016 15:44 (eight years ago) link

34. Protagonist with opaque but presumed lowly origins has strikingly noble moral character, particularly sense of fairness and courage. He/she is despised by powerful characters on the make, much of this apparently gut hatred for someone made of finer stuff than themselves; but attracts the admiration and unquestioning loyalty of a few good but powerless people. Following a number of harrowing experiences there is a revelation that he/she is of noble blood (thus noble character explained!(*)) and heir to a golden inheritance. His enemies are confounded, and his friends far, far more pleased for him/her than they could ever be for themselves.

(*) curiously this revelation of blood-as-destiny is still a popular device in kid's fiction and fantasy even among writers who consider themselves as being on the left - see Rowling, Pullman, as well as any number of sorts of swords and sorcery types.

― frankiemachine, Monday, January 11, 2010 5:42 AM (6 years ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

This. When will it stop? It seems to be especially hard for Britishes authors to shake off

banned on ixlor (Jon not Jon), Monday, 18 January 2016 16:05 (eight years ago) link

haha yes, 37a was specifically motivated by my reading The House of Mirth

Doctor Casino, important war pigeon (Doctor Casino), Monday, 18 January 2016 16:27 (eight years ago) link

A surprising amount of important literature revolves around an inexperienced young women swept off her feet by a dashing suitor whose character flaws are all too visible to the reader, but to which the heroine is blind, due to her youth, sheltered upbringing, and overly romantic view of life.

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Monday, 18 January 2016 19:22 (eight years ago) link

53(?). Protagonist climbs over/stabs in back everyone to achieve success they always dreamed of, finds it strangely lonely/empty

54. Character finds trove of diaries/entries, reads them all in sequence (which form perfect novelistic texture with no mystifying references, unexplained persons, etc), never skips to the end to see what happened

like Uber, but for underpants (James Morrison), Monday, 18 January 2016 23:04 (eight years ago) link

Not exactly a plot device, but I am sick of trees and weather reflecting emotional states. (this post inspired by the revenant but it's in a ton of books too.)

remove butt (abanana), Thursday, 21 January 2016 02:21 (eight years ago) link

I hear you, but I have a feeling that trope is here to stay -- hard to do things otherwise, probably even moreso in film than in books

on entre O.K. on sort K.O. (man alive), Thursday, 21 January 2016 02:40 (eight years ago) link

I like it, doesn't seem artificial to me. Hurting alive otm.

Starman Jones said it's 2 legit 2 quit (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 January 2016 02:52 (eight years ago) link

seven years pass...

55. As the servants clear away the dinner dishes and refill the brandy snifters, the peculiar visitor from Goodlandia prepares to spend the next 200 pages regaling his fascinated hosts with a description of his homeland's political, economic and technological achievements.

got it in the blood, the kid's a pelican (Doctor Casino), Monday, 27 February 2023 13:05 (one year ago) link

56. A long term and otherwise solid relationship crumbles due to a simple misunderstanding which could easily be cleared up but for a completely inexplicable failure to communicate.

ledge, Monday, 27 February 2023 13:56 (one year ago) link

57. Character with trauma goes to the country, feels better.

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 February 2023 17:05 (one year ago) link

58. Superficially good-looking but ominously weak-jawed young man spends all his money on a horse.

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 February 2023 17:06 (one year ago) link

59. Woman rejects a man's proposal, realizes too late that she loved him all along.

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 February 2023 17:08 (one year ago) link

60. Ugly duckling with suspicious similarities to the author makes a series of embarrassing social mistakes.

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 February 2023 17:10 (one year ago) link

61. Orphan is unofficially adopted by a grumpy old man/a grumpy old woman/someone of a different race and/or social class/wolves

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 February 2023 17:24 (one year ago) link

62. Sudden death at author's convenience---as in Middlemarch, even: stock devices aren't nec. bad, although I'm really sick of unreliable and most other or "other" first-person narrators.

dow, Monday, 27 February 2023 18:03 (one year ago) link

Realized most of mine are actually plots, rather than plot devices. I should read thread titles more carefully.

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 28 February 2023 00:39 (one year ago) link

you're good! this thread, like its TV cartoon predecessor, has always had room for both. and those are great also.

got it in the blood, the kid's a pelican (Doctor Casino), Tuesday, 28 February 2023 04:33 (one year ago) link

57. Character with trauma goes to the country, feels better.

― Lily Dale, Monday, February 27, 2023 12:05 PM (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

58. Superficially good-looking but ominously weak-jawed young man spends all his money on a horse.

― Lily Dale, Monday, February 27, 2023 12:06 PM (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

Gonna make it happen, this year, maybe even this week.

The field divisions are fastened with felicitations. (Deflatormouse), Tuesday, 28 February 2023 05:59 (one year ago) link

Been mewing too, workin on that jaw

The field divisions are fastened with felicitations. (Deflatormouse), Tuesday, 28 February 2023 06:00 (one year ago) link


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