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All stories have the same basic plots

From Ask Yahoo (5 March 2007):

There are only so many ways to construct a story.

Writers who believe there’s only one plot argue all stories “stem from conflict.” True enough, but we’re more inclined to back the theory you mention about seven plot lines.

According to the Internet Public Library, they are:

1. [wo]man vs. nature
2. [wo]man vs. man
3. [wo]man vs. the environment
4. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
5. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
6. [wo]man vs. self
7. [wo]man vs. god/religion

Ronald Tobias, author of “Twenty Basic Plots” believes the following make for good stories: quest, adventure, pursuit, rescue, escape, revenge, riddle, rivalry, underdog, temptation, metamorphosis, transformation, maturation, love, forbidden love, sacrifice, discovery, wretched excess, ascension, and decision.

1 Henry VI: an example of euphuism

From William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 1 (I: 5):

TALBOT:

My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel;
I know not where I am, nor what I do;
A witch, by fear, not force, like Hannibal,
Drives back our troops and conquers as she lists:
So bees with smoke and doves with noisome stench
Are from their hives and houses driven away.

They call’d us for our fierceness English dogs;
Now, like to whelps, we crying run away.

euphuism: in English literature, a highly elaborate and artificial style that derived from the Euphues (1578) of John Lyly and that flourished in England in the 1580s. It was characterized by extensive use of simile and illustration, balanced construction, alliteration, and antithesis. Euphuism played an important role in English literary history by demonstrating the capabilities of English prose. The term has come to mean an artificial, precious, high-flown style of writing.

The final moment of tragedy

From Northrop Frye’s “The Mythos of Autumn: Tragedy” (128):

The moment of discovery or ‘anagnorisis’, which comes at the end of the tragic plot, is not simply the knowledge by the hero of what has happened to him … but the recognition of the determined shape of the life he has created for himself, with an implicit comparison with the uncreated potential life he has forsaken.

Best headline ever

From Entertainment News, 21 March 2004:

“Zombies Push Jesus from Top of North American Box Office”

(About Dawn of the Dead and The Passion of the Christ)

Portable music turns life into cinema

From Farhad Manjoo’s “iPod: I love you, you’re perfect, now change” (Salon: 23 October 2006):

Levy writes that when this happens, the music becomes a “soundtrack” for the scenery, which is a good way to put it. The iPod turns ordinary life — riding the bus, waiting in line at the post office, staring at a spreadsheet for 12 hours a day — into cinema. Levy describes the work of sociologist Michael Bull, who, when studying the habits of fans of the iPod’s great ancestor the Sony Walkman, found that people liked to think of themselves “as imaginary movie stars” playing out scenes dictated by the music in their ears. One subject who listened to music from spaghetti westerns said that the Walkman turned him into a “verbal bounty hunter” bent on firing “short cool blasts of verbal abuse” at his co-workers. The science fiction writer William Gibson once described the Walkman as having done “more to change human perception than any virtual reality gadget. I can’t remember any technological experience that was quite so wonderful as being able to take music and move it through landscape and architecture.” The iPod, with its greater capacity, alters perception even more profoundly; when the right song comes on, the world actually feels different.

What can we learn from Scooby-Doo?

From Chris Suellentrop’s “Scooby-Doo: Hey, dog! How do you do the voodoo that you do so well?” (Slate: 26 March 2004):

The Washington Post‘s Hank Stuever concisely elucidated the “Scooby worldview” when the first live-action movie came out: “Kids should meddle, dogs are sweet, life is groovy, and if something scares you, you should confront it.”

Teach people not to want a camera, but photography itself

From James Surowiecki’s “The Tastemakers” (The New Yorker [13 January 2003]: 31):

… it’s one thing to foist a fad on people, and another to have a deep and enduring impact on their everyday customs and habits. In the late eighteen-eighties, when George Eastman invented the Kodak – the first point-and-shoot camera – photography was the private domain of enthusiasts and professionals. Though the Kodak was relatively cheap and easy to use, most Americans didn’t see the need for a camera; they had no sense that there was any value in visually documenting their lives. So, instead of simply marketing a camera, Eastman sold photography. His advertisements told people what to take pictures of: vacations, holidays, “the Christmas house party.” Kodak introduced the concept of the photo album, and made explicit the connection between photographs and memories. Before long, it was more or less considered a patriotic duty to commemorate the notable – and not so notable – moments in your life on a roll of Kodak film.

Imagining a future of warring balloons

From Tom Reiss’s “Imagining the Worst: How a literary genre anticipated the modern world” (The New Yorker [28 November 2005]: 108):

… the first mini-boom in invasion fiction began in the seventeen-eighties, when the French developed the hot-air balloon. Soon, French poems and plays were depicting hot-air-propelled flying armies destined for England, and an American poem from 1784 warned, “At sea let the British their neighbors defy– / The French shall have frigates to traverse the sky. … If the English should venture to sea with their fleet, / A host of balloons in a trice they shall meet.” A German story published in 1810, and set in the twenty-first century, describes human populations living in deep underground shelters, with shops and churches, while balloon warfare between Europeans and invading Asian armies rages in the skies above.

1st book written to be filmed

From Claudia Roth Pierpont’s “Tough Guy: The mystery of Dashiell Hammett” (The New Yorker [11 February 2002]: 70):

In March, 1928, [Hammett] had written to his publisher, Blanche Knopf, about his plans to adapt the “stream-of-consciousness method” to a new detective novel. He was going to enter the detective’s mind, he told her, reveal his impressions and follow his thoughts … But a few days after sending the letter, Hammett received one himself, from the head of the Fox Film Corporation, asking to look at some of his stories. He promptly fired off a second letter to Knopf, informing her of an important change in his artistic plans: he would now be writing only in “objective and filmable forms.” In the finished novel, Spade is viewed from the outside only, … we are granted no access to his mind. “The Maltese Falcon” may have been the first book to be conceived as a movie before it was written.

Writers take a while to attain full power

From Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “A Speech Delivered In The Committee of the House Of Commons On The 6th Of April 1842” (Prime Palaver #4: 1 September 2001):

It is the law of our nature that the mind shall attain its full power by slow degrees; and this is especially true of the most vigorous minds. Young men, no doubt, have often produced works of great merit; but it would be impossible to name any writer of the first order whose juvenile performances were his best. That all the most valuable books of history, of philology, of physical and metaphysical science, of divinity, of political economy, have been produced by men of mature years will hardly be disputed. The case may not be quite so clear as respects works of the imagination. And yet I know no work of the imagination of the very highest class that was ever, in any age or country, produced by a man under thirty-five. Whatever powers a youth may have received from nature, it is impossible that his taste and judgment can be ripe, that his mind can be richly stored with images, that he can have observed the vicissitudes of life, that he can have studied the nicer shades of character. How, as Marmontel very sensibly said, is a person to paint portraits who has never seen faces? On the whole, I believe that I may, without fear of contradiction, affirm this, that of the good books now extant in the world more than nineteen-twentieths were published after the writers had attained the age of forty.

Macaulay in 1841: copyright a tax on readers

From Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “A Speech Delivered In The House Of Commons On The 5th Of February 1841” (Prime Palaver #4: 1 September 2001):

The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honourable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely any perceptible addition to the bounty.

Macaulay in 1841 on the problems on the copyright monopoly

From Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “A Speech Delivered In The House Of Commons On The 5th Of February 1841” (Prime Palaver #4: 1 September 2001):

The question of copyright, Sir, like most questions of civil prudence, is neither black nor white, but grey. The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded. …

We have, then, only one resource left. We must betake ourselves to copyright, be the inconveniences of copyright what they may. Those inconveniences, in truth, are neither few nor small. Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. …

I believe, Sir, that I may with safety take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. … Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good. …

For consider this; the evil effects of the monopoly are proportioned to the length of its duration. But the good effects for the sake of which we bear with the evil effects are by no means proportioned to the length of its duration. A monopoly of sixty years produces twice as much evil as a monopoly of thirty years, and thrice as much evil as a monopoly of twenty years. But it is by no means the fact that a posthumous monopoly of sixty years gives to an author thrice as much pleasure and thrice as strong a motive as a posthumous monopoly of twenty years. On the contrary, the difference is so small as to be hardly perceptible. We all know how faintly we are affected by the prospect of very distant advantages, even when they are advantages which we may reasonably hope that we shall ourselves enjoy. But an advantage that is to be enjoyed more than half a century after we are dead, by somebody, we know not by whom, perhaps by somebody unborn, by somebody utterly unconnected with us, is really no motive at all to action. …

Dr Johnson died fifty-six years ago. If the law were what my honourable and learned friend wishes to make it, somebody would now have the monopoly of Dr Johnson’s works. Who that somebody would be it is impossible to say; but we may venture to guess. I guess, then, that it would have been some bookseller, who was the assign of another bookseller, who was the grandson of a third bookseller, who had bought the copyright from Black Frank, the doctor’s servant and residuary legatee, in 1785 or 1786. Now, would the knowledge that this copyright would exist in 1841 have been a source of gratification to Johnson? Would it have stimulated his exertions? Would it have once drawn him out of his bed before noon? Would it have once cheered him under a fit of the spleen? Would it have induced him to give us one more allegory, one more life of a poet, one more imitation of Juvenal? I firmly believe not. I firmly believe that a hundred years ago, when he was writing our debates for the Gentleman’s Magazine, he would very much rather have had twopence to buy a plate of shin of beef at a cook’s shop underground. Considered as a reward to him, the difference between a twenty years’ and sixty years’ term of posthumous copyright would have been nothing or next to nothing. But is the difference nothing to us? I can buy Rasselas for sixpence; I might have had to give five shillings for it. I can buy the Dictionary, the entire genuine Dictionary, for two guineas, perhaps for less; I might have had to give five or six guineas for it. Do I grudge this to a man like Dr Johnson? Not at all. Show me that the prospect of this boon roused him to any vigorous effort, or sustained his spirits under depressing circumstances, and I am quite willing to pay the price of such an object, heavy as that price is. But what I do complain of is that my circumstances are to be worse, and Johnson’s none the better; that I am to give five pounds for what to him was not worth a farthing.

The differences between language in art & politics

From Harold Pinter’s “Nobel Lecture: Art, Truth & Politics” (Nobel Prize: 7 December 2005):

In 1958 I wrote the following:

‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false? …

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time. …

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Failure every 30 years produces better design

From The New York Times‘ “Form Follows Function. Now Go Out and Cut the Grass.“:

Failure, [Henry] Petroski shows, works. Or rather, engineers only learn from things that fail: bridges that collapse, software that crashes, spacecraft that explode. Everything that is designed fails, and everything that fails leads to better design. Next time at least that mistake won’t be made: Aleve won’t be packed in child-proof bottles so difficult to open that they stymie the arthritic patients seeking the pills inside; narrow suspension bridges won’t be built without “stay cables” like the ill-fated Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which was twisted to its destruction by strong winds in 1940.

Successes have fewer lessons to teach. This is one reason, Mr. Petroski points out, that there has been a major bridge disaster every 30 years. Gradually the techniques and knowledge of one generation become taken for granted; premises are no longer scrutinized. So they are re-applied in ambitious projects by creators who no longer recognize these hidden flaws and assumptions.

Mr. Petroski suggests that 30 years – an implicit marker of generational time – is the period between disasters in many specialized human enterprises, the period between, say, the beginning of manned space travel and the Challenger disaster, or the beginnings of nuclear energy and the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. …

Mr. Petroski cites an epigram of Epictetus: “Everything has two handles – by one of which it ought to be carried and by the other not.”

Secret movies in the Paris underground

From Jon Henley’s “In a secret Paris cavern, the real underground cinema” (The Guardian: 8 September 2004):

Police in Paris have discovered a fully equipped cinema-cum-restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern underneath the capital’s chic 16th arrondissement. Officers admit they are at a loss to know who built or used one of Paris’s most intriguing recent discoveries. "We have no idea whatsoever," a police spokesman said. …

Members of the force’s sports squad, responsible – among other tasks – for policing the 170 miles of tunnels, caves, galleries and catacombs that underlie large parts of Paris, stumbled on the complex while on a training exercise beneath the Palais de Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

After entering the network through a drain next to the Trocadero, the officers came across a tarpaulin marked: Building site, No access.

Behind that, a tunnel held a desk and a closed-circuit TV camera set to automatically record images of anyone passing. The mechanism also triggered a tape of dogs barking, "clearly designed to frighten people off," the spokesman said.

Further along, the tunnel opened into a vast 400 sq metre cave some 18m underground, "like an underground amphitheatre, with terraces cut into the rock and chairs".

There the police found a full-sized cinema screen, projection equipment, and tapes of a wide variety of films, including 1950s film noir classics and more recent thrillers. None of the films were banned or even offensive, the spokesman said.

A smaller cave next door had been turned into an informal restaurant and bar. "There were bottles of whisky and other spirits behind a bar, tables and chairs, a pressure-cooker for making couscous," the spokesman said.

"The whole thing ran off a professionally installed electricity system and there were at least three phone lines down there."

Three days later, when the police returned accompanied by experts from the French electricity board to see where the power was coming from, the phone and electricity lines had been cut and a note was lying in the middle of the floor: "Do not," it said, "try to find us." …

There exist, however, several secretive bands of so-called cataphiles, who gain access to the tunnels mainly after dark, through drains and ventilation shafts, and hold what in the popular imagination have become drunken orgies but are, by all accounts, innocent underground picnics.

… the Perforating Mexicans, last night told French radio the subterranean cinema was its work.

Film noir in the Parisian catacombs. Secret bars and telephones. Scuttling down drains for secret assignations. "Do not try to find us." I’m swooning just thinking about it!