Sticky Cobwebs of the Past

Mankind has been telling stories since the moment they could communicate. It’s how we see the world, teach lesson, and learn.  Straight facts do not necessarily illustrate points or ideas without an interesting narrative.

That means our past is rich with material to inspire us.

As a writer, I respect and admire those who have come before me.  They’ve helped build the foundation and structure that I create in.


As writers, we can not and should not look to reinvent ourselves as the modern day Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Dorothy L. Sayers, Jules Verne, Shakespeare.  Yes, reviews might prattle on, making lofty comparisons, but we have to write in our own voice.  Each of the aforementioned authors spoke to the social issues of their times.  Even today, the historical novels are written with the sensibilities of our own era.  Without the grounding in our time, authors of the past would have a hard time being published.

Before I’m peppered by complaints that I don’t respect the classics – I do!  I learn from them and enjoy them.

There are approximately 20 Master Plots, the classics help accustom us to the plots that make the writing timeless.  Ronald Tobias (click on the link for full details), author of 20 Master Plots, and how to build them, summarizes the list.

      • Quest
      • Adventure
      • Pursuit
      • Rescue
      • Escape
      • Revenge
      • The Riddle
      • Rivalry
      • Underdog
      • Temptation
      • Metamorphosis
      • Transformation
      • Maturation
      • Love
      • Forbidden Love
      • Sacrifice
      • Discovery
      • Wretched Excess
      • Ascension
      • Descension

As writers, our job is to take one or multiple plots and make them fresh and interesting.  Knowing these basic building blocks are invaluable.

Can you identify and summarize the plots at work in your project?

We need to avoid being stuck in the sticky cobwebs in the past.  We are now the trailblazers.  Our view points and observations of our society is what makes us stand out.

Much like the student painter, striving to learn technique from the masters, trying to be  exactly like a Dorothy L. Sayers or a Jane Austen or a HG Wells, will only mark us as novices.

Let’s not get stuck in the webs of the past.  Let’s blaze forth and make our marks on the world.



  • Thanks for those links. I know a lady who used to go into classrooms and tell impromptu stories to students. She would have the kids an object and then tell a story about that object on the spot. It was a skill/craft she honed and I admired. I told her that I wish I could do that someday and she said that once you know the 20 major plots, it becomes easier. So I’ve been wanting to study these and I’m so glad you mentioned them in your post!

  • Great blog! Trying to write in someone else’s voice is like trying to live in someone else’s body…it just doesn’t work! It lacks genuineness. (That is my new word for the day!).
    Like you, I happen to love the classics (Jane Austen and Dorothy L. being two of my favorites). Learning from those masters and the way they craft their stories, isn’t the same as imitating them. Just as a newly developing painter needs to move beyond imitation and use those techniques to create his/her own story, so do we as writers need to do the same.
    I’m looking forward to going through your links on this one. You do come up with some of the best stuff!

  • It took me a long time to figure this out! My voice is truly my own because I decided to ignore everything I ever read about “how to write.” 🙂

    Great post and very empowering!!

  • A thoughtful message Leila, thanks for sharing!

  • Pingback: Useful Writing Tools | martinlakewriting

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