Wow, talk about Signs.  I’ve had a bunch of them in the last couple of days.  First, my brother called and started talking about The Situation forty – forty! – years ago.  I don’t want to get too far into it here, but I did something selfless back then to help my family. It radically and completely changed the entire trajectory of my life, and not necessarily for the better.  (I’ll never know, will I?)

If my family had listened to even one word I’d said for the preceding eight years, The Situation wouldn’t have existed and who knows where I’d be now, but probably not Here.

And no one noticed what I did and what I lost (or possibly gained) by doing it, or acknowledged it, or even had the good grace to thank me for it.

Until my brother brought it up in a phone call yesterday.  He had noticed, it turns out, and has felt bad for the past forty years that he couldn’t do anything to change the situation at the time.

Well.  Ya think this is conjuring up a whole host of thoughts, memories, ‘what if’s’?  My mind is in overdrive.

While noodling over this, I got a Facebook message from an old friend who remembered that thirty – thirty! – years ago I told her I’d wished I’d written the book Kinflicks.

Kinflicks?  I can barely remember it, and I haven’t read anything by Lisa Alther since then, although that’s about to change.  According to an Amazon review, it’s  ‘a realistic warts-and-all view’ of coming of age in the ‘60’s.  Since that could describe my life back in the day, fer sure I’ll catch up with it again.

The grand finale in the ‘What next?’ sweepstakes came this morning when I finally organized my office and put things into my new filing cabinet.  I was putting something on the already-crammed bookshelf when a book fell to the floor.

Hmm… Steven Schoen’s The Truth About Fiction.  I don’t remember buying it, let alone reading it, but there was a yellowed strip of newspaper holding my place, so I must have at least started it.  I opened it to the bookmark.  Ah, Chapter 4: Plot.

Here’s the first page of the chapter:

If you want to make yourself depressed, all you have to do is go to a library or one of the new superstore book vendors.  Wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling books and magazines.  Page after page of fiction.  Obviously, everything that can be written already has been, right?  What new is there left for you to do?

Take heart.  The fact is, in the broad strokes, on all those pages, there are really only six plots.

First of all, there are only three basic conflicts:

a.   A person at war with another person.
b.   A  person at war with his (sic) world.
c.   A person at war with himself.

And there are only two outcomes:  either the protagonist wins, or he loses.

3 possible conflicts X 2 possible endings = six plots.

Whaddya think?

I’ll let y’all know what I think of the Schoen book.  I can already tell you that it’s 115 pages soaking wet and that is charging $44.40 for it new.  Which makes me think it must be used as a text in college writing classes, where the cost of student textbooks is shameful.  Which pisses me off, and is another reason I’m glad I’m not in academia full-time anymore.

So:  Now I need to figure out how to connect all the dots life has presented me with in the last 48 hours.    Stay tuned.

13 comments to Signs

  • I can’t wait to see the picture when you have all the dots connected! It’s amazing how some things reveal themselves. Just like the stories we write, life is a puzzle, it takes time and patience to put the pieces in the correct place.

    BTW, I agree wholeheartedly about the prices of textbooks. Highway robbery!!

    • Natasha

      Yeah, it just seemed weird that all these things started falling in/out/whatever in the last couple of days. I feel like it’s a creative writing exercise to try to get them to fit together somehow.

      Oh. Wait. It is….

      Just wait ’til your kids start college. Textbooks can cost about a hundred bucks a piece, and at the end of the semester when they try to sell them, they’re told that they are ‘updating’ the texts for the following semester and the bookstore won’t buy them back. Hello? How much can psychology 101 change over the course of a summer?

  • It’s so weird, I feel like I have all these pieces of a certain part of my life coming together in a strange way over the last couple of weeks. It makes me want to write about that time, but I am still not sure what to say about it, it’s so unclear…

    • Natasha

      Well, you can always make stuff up about my life if you’d like. 🙂

      But, yeah, I feel the same way and it’s just not clear how things will come together.

  • I agree with the six possible plot formulas, although I would also add man against God. Since there is no universally understood definition of God it would be difficult to categorize this struggle in any way other than one that is unique to the author.

    Fortunately, these formulas are only the base for an endless supply of dramatic situations. Thus the reason there are shelves of published works.

    And yes, change is in the air. I feel it too.

    • Natasha

      Well, I can’t remember a thing about any of the book, so I’m just going to start from the beginning and see if I think Schoen is onto something with any of it. I just added the quote because I thought it was worth it as something to think about.

      Well, depending on your interpretation of what God is, that struggle could fall under human at war with the world or human at war with oneself. What I mostly got from this was that if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

      Maybe it’s the little green things that are beginning to poke their blessed heads out of the ground (sorry, northerners — your day will come) but change is definitely in the air. You’re right.

  • What goes around, comes around. Perhaps your act of selflessness many, many years ago is coming back around and is going to dump riches in your lap. I hope with all my heart that this happens for you.

    • Natasha

      Well, thanks, Shaddy…. It already has in a bunch of ways. Karma rules. And ‘riches’ show up in a myriad of things, large and small…

  • I might have to look up Kinflicks too … forty years ago. Yikes.

    I suppose the 3 x 2 thing must be right; I’ve read it before. Of course, then you mix it up because usually a person is at war with another (or his world) because he’s at war with himself. And yes *sigh* the trick is to make your retelling of this basic plot worth reading.

    • Natasha

      I know….time flies, whether or not you’re having fun. 🙂 I think you’re right; usually a person is, first off, at war with him or herself.

      Good challenges in making the plot new and fresh.

  • The sad truth is that there are no more original stories

    • Natasha

      Thanks for visiting my site! There are no stories that are truly original, but we can still try to put a spin on the universal stories and add a new or different perspective that makes them fresh and unique. I hope so, at least. Still trying.

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