Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #8: The Trickster

Archetypes The Trickster

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series

#8 The Trickster

By Leigh Holland.

The Trickster is the archetype of change and chaos. Sometimes, the Trickster will also serve as an ally or sidekick. Tricksters can provide comic relief during a tense moment, or troublemaking antics that can hinder or assist the hero as needed. The Trickster, a ball of chaotic energy, often challenges the status quo, even if that happens to be your hero. Is your hero a bit too full of himself? Maybe it’s the antagonist who thinks too highly of himself. The Trickster can cleverly cut either of them down to size for you. Unsure how to get the hero out of a precarious situation? Tricksters are catalysts for change. Because of his (or her) unpredictability, readers accept it when the Trickster shows up out of the blue with the flying car he stole and save the hero and his sidekick from certain doom. Of course, that wasn’t what the Trickster was really doing out there in that flying car. It was just good luck that he happened upon them along the way. Don’t confuse the Trickster with the Shapeshifter. The Shapeshifter questions and at times, deceives. The Trickster disrupts, using a variety of tools, of which deceit if merely one.

Being true to his name, the Trickster can surpass the role of unpredictable comic relief and take on a more sinister, deceptive quality, deceiving friends and foes alike. And of course, the Trickster can easily occupy more than one role. In some tales, the Trickster, Hero, and even the Shadow are one and the same. One example that comes to mind is the main character from the film Atomic Blonde.

Here’s a series of clips showing the Trickster in LOTR: Gollum.

This is one of my favorite examples of a Trickster: End of the Line and Resisting Arrest.

Find other articles on the Hero’s Journey:

The Ally

The Shapeshifter

The Herald

The Threshold Guardian

The Mentor

The Hero

What is The Hero’s Journey?


Writing Tips From Joan Didion

Joan Didion

Writing Tips From Joan Didion

Joan Didion was born December 5th, 1934, in Sacramento California to Frank Reece and Eduene Didion. She loved books even from a very young age, continuously asking her mother for books on adult topics from the library at as young an age as 5. Joan described herself as a “shy, bookish child”. She became involved in acting and public speaking to force herself to overcome her social anxiety. An Army child, she moved frequently, and continuously felt like a temporary outsider. She graduated from University of California Berkely with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She’d won a writing contest that landed her a job at Vogue for the first seven years after graduation. During this time, she wrote her first book, “Run, River”.

Didion contributed to the style of New Journalism, seeking to communicate facts through narrative storytelling. In 2002, the Saint Louis University Library Associates awarded her the St. Louis Literary Award. In 2007, she received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution To American Letters from the National Book Foundation. In 2009, Harvard awarded her an honorary Doctor of Letters. You can view her works at Joan Didon’s Author Page at Amazon.

On Editing

“[Editing] happens in the course of writing.

I can’t go on if it’s not pretty much the way that it should be. Towards the beginning of a book, I will go back to page one every day and rewrite. I’ll start out the day with some marked-up pages that I have marked up the night before, and by the time you get to page, maybe, 270, you are not going back to page 1 necessarily anymore, but you’re going back to page 158 and starting over from there.”

On the Act of Writing

“In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions —with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

On Reasons to Write

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Ray Bradbury on Writing

Ray Bradbury on writing
Photo by Alan Light

Ray Bradbury on Writing

(photo by Alan Light)


Biography from

“Ray Bradbury, recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, died on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91 after a long illness. He lived in Los Angeles.

In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury has inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and close to fifty books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time. His groundbreaking works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted sixty-five of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree. In 2005, Bradbury published a book of essays titled Bradbury Speaks, in which he wrote: In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back. Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I’ve worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior.

He is survived by his four daughters, Susan Nixon, Ramona Ostergren, Bettina Karapetian, and Alexandra Bradbury, and eight grandchildren. His wife, Marguerite, predeceased him in 2003, after fifty-seven years of marriage.

Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.”

Ray Bradbury on writing:

  1. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
  2. Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.
  3. You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.
  4. If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.
  5. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
  6. You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can’t sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in your bed. It is a grand way to live.
  7. Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.

15 Ways You Can Use Word Play To Delight Your Readers

15 ways to delight readers using word play

15 Ways You Can Use Word Play To Delight Your Readers

By Leigh Holland.

What is “Word Play”? Word play is also called “a play on words”. A word play is a literary technique writers use to imbue words with greater or different meaning, so that the main subject becomes the word. Word play is designed to produce an intended effect in the reader. Although often employed for the purpose of amusement, this technique can be used to convey any meaning a writer wants to.

Here are some types of word play.

  1. Onomatopoeia– The word is the sound. This has the benefit of setting the mood right away, is a literal word play that can’t be misunderstood, and immediately imparts imagery into the mind of the reader. Use appropriately and sparingly. Example: Rumble-boom went the sound of the dynamite, whoosh went the wind from the blast as it blew past Erin.
  2. Mondegreen- Homophones or near-homophones; a string of such words is called an oronym (“I scream for ice cream”). This device most commonly occurs in songs and poems.These work off of confirmation bias- we hear what we expect from our everyday lives rather than what is there. Our minds are continually trying to make sense of information entering them and sort words based on prior experience. In music, this is called “misheard lyrics” or “soramimi”. A lyrical example is “…and laid him on the green” misheard as “…and Lady Mondegreen”, from which the device takes its name. Warning: sometimes your reader may not understand what the intended effect was. Example: “Come You Nigh Kay Shuns” by Lawrence A. Perkins has as its title and plot a new communications system encoded with mondegreens. In my novel “2042”, the elusive yet omnipresent figurehead of the corporate-religious dystopian regime is called “the Profit” instead of “the Prophet” in order to drive home the financial corruption of this ‘spiritual’ leader.
  3. Spoonerism- A deliberate switching of consonants, vowels, or morphemes in multi-word phrases, quite often to humorous effect. Example: belly jeans (as opposed to jelly beans), sew me to another sheet (show me to another seat).
  4. Palindrome- A word that reads the same backwards and forwards. Example: Never odd or even, tacocat, “Doc: note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.”, able was I ere I saw Elba, Hannah, civic, kayak, level, A Santa lived as a devil at Nasa.palindrome image
  5. Acrostic- A hidden message within a text, usually comprised of the first letter of a repeating sequence, such as the first letter of each word, the first letter of each paragraph on a page, etc. Example: Edgar Allen Poe’s “An Acrostic”:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say

Love not”—thou sayest it in so sweet a way:

In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.

Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:

Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,

Breath it less gently forth—and veil thine eyes.

Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried

To cure his love—was cured of all beside—

His follie—pride—and passion—for he died.

6. Backronym- An acronym is a word derived from the letters of a longer string of words. For example, the word “radar” comes from RAdio Detection And Ranging, the letters were chosen to fit the words they represent. In a backronym, the words are chosen to represent the letters. The can be used seriously or humorously. Example: Arby’s 1980 ad campaign slogan “America’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir!”, “Mother Of All Bombs”, AA’s ‘slip’ as “Sobriety Losing Its Priority”, SPAM= “something posing as meat”.

7. Contronym- A word with multiple meanings, one of which is the reverse of another. Example: Sarah’s outfit is sick, Tim’s jacket is bad as hell, a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife; he cleaved the enemy in two.contronym example

8. Neologisms- A word not yet fully accepted into the language but that was created recently and is in common use. A portmanteau, for instance, is a word created by blending two or more other words together, such as “snark” (snake and shark), and “brunch” (breakfast and lunch). Often, acronyms will enter language as neologisms. Once the word is accepted it is no longer a neologism. Example: grok, McJob, quark, cyberspace, Catch-22, Orwellian, Kafkaesque, scrooge, pollyanna, coke when referring to any soft drink, affluenza, animatronic, bionic.beheadedness.jpg


9. Oxymoron- A rhetorical device putting together contradictory terms to form a self-contradicting phrase in order to make a point. Example: keenly stupid, barely clothed, affordable caviar, terribly good, be cruel to be kind, proudly humble, delightful sorrow, scalding coldness.

10. Malapropism- When an incorrect word is used that is nonsensical in context, but sounds similar to the intended word. Example: It is beyond my apprehension, she plummeted to the top, going up and down like a metronome, we cannot let terrorists hold our allies hostile, he was a man of great statue, they have miscalculated me as a leader.

11. Aptronym- The use of a personal name for a character that describes their profession. Example: Anthony Weiner (politician with a sex scandal), Jules Angst (anxiety disorder psychologist), Sara Blizzard (BBC Meteorologist), Thomas Crapper (sanitary engineer), Francine Prose (American novelist), Rosalind Brewer (Starbucks Executive).

12. Paraprosdokian- A figure of speech in which the last part of a sentence or dialogue is so surprising the reader must return to think about the first part. Often used in comedy. Example: On his feet, he wore blisters; Take my wife-please; I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it; I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too much; I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democrat; on the other hand, you have different fingers.

13. Conversion- Creating a new meaning or alternate part of speech for a word by deriving it from itself. Examples: The golf green is called a green because it is the color green, Beer me, He was eyeing her, she googled the info, he was texting, Let’s not Rumsfeld Afghanistan, she downed a pint, Petruchio is Kated.

14. Paronomasia- A “pun”. This form of word play exploits multiple meanings of words, or of similar sounding words, for rhetorical effect, based on ambiguities. It treats homonyms as synonyms. Many forms of word play fall under this category as it can arise from metonymic, homophonic, or figurative language. Examples: When it rains it pours (Morton Salt), time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana (Groucho Marx), Kings worry about a receding heir line, I used to be a tap dancer until I fell in the sink.

15. Double Entendre- A phrase that has a double meaning, one often being demeaning or insulting. One meaning is obvious, the other meaning is often implied through innuendo. Example: “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”(Hannibal Lecter) “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”(Mae West)


“Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns, he should be drawn and quoted.”

-Fred Allen


20 Surefire Ways You Can Evoke The Right Mood In Your Readers

20 Surefire Ways You Can Evoke The Right Mood In Your Readers

By Leigh Holland

In the field of linguistics, scientists study the effects of words on those who read or hear them, as well as which words produce the most and least pleasing sounds, determining which words are therefore more likely to survive the passage of time.

When we see an image or object and associate the word describing it inside our minds, they become interchangeable. When we do it with sounds, this sound association is known as phonosemantics. This abstraction of sounds opens the floodgate for feeling or mood also associated with those abstractions, an event known as “ideasthesia”.

It may seem incredible that a sound or string of sounds can inspire feelings and moods in those who read or hear them. When I first heard this, I scoffed inwardly, “Yeah, right, as if my mind is that gullible.” Then I tested it. Here we go!


What popped into your head? Was it either Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Manson, or a person you know or knew named Marilyn? If so, that’s an example of how word association summons forth images, feelings, and ideas.


Let’s try another.


I immediately thought of Halloween, horror films, ghosts, and scary noises. Most of those scary sounds made a creak or squeal type of sound. Now I’m ready to read a Stephen King book. Did you notice what these words had in common? They all have a long ee sound in them. The long ee sound is subconsciously associated with a mood for horror and thrills.


Our minds store information and categorize things so we can make sense of the world as we encounter it day by day. Sleep is a lot like a defrag program for our minds. It makes sense that our mental method of categorizing would lead to word and sound associations.

How do we use these associations to our benefit in storytelling and writing?

One: Content is always more important than sound associations.

Two: Sound symbols can add something special to your writing when placed in an appropriate scene.

Three: Be subtle when using this technique.

  1. Mood: Violent, Intimidating. “B” sounds found in words such as: belt, beat, bash, bang, blow, bully, bounce, bitch, barbarian, barbarous, bat, boom, bone, bossy, brag, boast, bluster, brazen, bury, blatant, bad, box, brawl, jab, grab, blast, rob, clobber, bump, bruise, bust, brutal, bouncer, boxer, butting, brow-beat, beefy, bothersome, brawn, bellicose, squabble, bigot, bounder, bold, brash, bucolic, buffoon, slobber, bawl, bray, bellyache, blood.
  2. Mood: Terrifying, Scary, Cringing. “EE”, “C” and “T-R” sounds found in such words as: tossed, turned, trouble, terror, tormented, twitch, tremble, tremendous, tantrum, tempest, tornado, tirade, twisting, twirling, torrent, trumpet, tyrant, grief, eerie, creepy, weird, evil, demon, screech, squeal, squeak, beseech, plead, scream, shriek, keen, weep, banshee, gleam, creatures, features, feverish, fearsome, fear, hear, heed, deed, dreary, creak, eerie, cringing, cranny, crevice, cavern, chasm, cloister, confined, cover, cove, closed, cubicle, cupboard, closet, corner, crater, cavity, cleft, crack, recess, cradle, crib, cower, creep, catacomb.
  3. Mood: Humorous, Comedic, Slapstick, Cheerful. “J” , “DGE”, “CH” and “B” sounds found in words such as: jumble, bumble, stumble, big, broad, beam, barrel, bloated, belly, ball, bollocks, bust, bosom, boobs, breasts, jolly, tub, buttocks, booty, bum, base, bottom, backside, bluff, burly, bulging, buttery, beautiful, benign, benevolent, blessed, bountiful, blimp, blooming, bulbous, burgeoning, billowing, orb, bouncing, babbling, globe, knob, basket, baggy, bowl, bubble, flabby, shambles, slobber, gobble, blob, buffoon, fumble, blush, imbibe, booze, embarrass, jaunt, jamboree, chuckle, cherish, chirp, jester, joy, enjoy, cheerful, chaff, charm, chant, chortle, cheeky, chit-chat, exchange, jingle, rejoice, jovial, jest, joke, jive, jig, jazz, jumping, jabber, jeering, jag, jape, jog, junket, jitterbug, jug, jar, joint, touch, chin.
  4. Mood: Lofty, Aspiring. “A” and “H” sounds found in such words as: sage, ascend, aviator, audacious, azure, aloft, angelic, again, aspire, avian, alert, agile, aware, attentive, awake, lark, hope, heaven, human, high, holiness, holidays, holy, happy, host, harmony, ghost, heave, honesty, sigh, howl, heart, hearth, earth, wholeness, haughty, hilltop, hierarchy, head, hankering, honor, humility.angel-749625_640.jpg
  5. Mood: Defeat, Despair, Death, Suffering. “D” and “H” sounds found in such words as: defeat, despair, depression, death, die, down, dumps, dodo, dead, done, dumb, dingy, drop, dim, droop, dank, dark, dreary, doleful, dire, dismal, dread, demotion, dismiss, degradation, dungeon, curmudgeon, smudge, stodgy, drudge, despondent, abandon, under, dig, Hell, heat, harass, hardship, hard, hit, helpless, horrible, horror, hate, hated, harm, hurtful, hurt.
  6. Mood: Cutting, Jarring, Stinging, Attack. “C”, “K”, and “CK” sounds found in words such as: cutting, cleave, culling, scissors, scythe, sickle, scold, critic, caustic, scalpel, schism, curtail, acid, cold, discourage, scar, flick, quick, whisk, look, hark, awaken, crack, prank, pike, spike, brisk.
  7. Mood: Fun. “F” sounds found in words such as: fun, frivolous, frivolity, free, fancy, footloose, flamboyant, flagrant, effervescence, flair, famous, flighty, flutter, fairies, frisky, flirt, flaunt, flitting, frilly fluff, floating, flying, feathers, foam, flounce, fidget, drift, fops, frolic, flippant, flock, fan, flash, flimsy, finery, flee, frocks, taffeta, flam, ruffles, flossy, flapper, foolish, flutter, fake, estive, fantasy, fast, butterfly, affable, carefree, fabulous, flourish, fling.
  8. Mood: Inertia and/or Yuck. “G” sounds found in words such as: glue, glucose, glutton, grease, congeal, grimy, greasy, quagmire, gurgle, slog, bog, gummy, grunge, grit, grisly, gooey, soggy, clogged, grab.
  9. Mood: Leisurely. “L” sounds found in words such as: lazy, laid-back, linger, limpid, lagoon, light, placid, languid, lie, lethargic, dally, listless, loafer, pleasure, lump, slump, sleep, leisure, lull, sloth, slug, sliding, slipping, slob, sleek, lounging, lax, loose, flaccid.
  10. Mood: Cozy. “M” sounds found in words such as: mother, home, meal, warm, comfort, murmur, mumble, mutter, mercy, mirth, mild, humble, mammal, maternal, molly-coddle, mollify, moon, plump, money, make, made, missed, mellow, amiable, mulled, meek, mare, madonna, womb, mommy, ambience.
  11. Mood: Rejection, Denial. “N” sounds found in words such as: nope, no, nothing, never, nowhere, nobody, deny, sin, decline, ban, non, negative, knave, naughty, none, nick, nay, denigrate, nasty, snide, sneer, nag, narrow, uncouth, unholy, unloved, unwanted.
  12. Mood: Heroes, Royals, Power. “O” sounds represent the ultimate mother or queen while “P” sounds represent the father or king, found in such words as: womb, world, mother, noble, rolling, royal, over, round, globe, orb, goddess, whole, glory, gown, robe, dome, source, home, come, hole, orifice, mound, knob, pompous, rotund, moon, cosmos, total, void, ocean, hero, paternity, pregnant, priority, emperor, pompous, pride, upright, pole, pinnacle, pillar, parental, parent, support, pedestal, post, puffed-up, proper, pipsqueak, peevish, preen, plumage, power, parade, palace, president, prefect, prince, pontiff, principle, patriarch, politics, pomp, peacock, prance, penetrate, push, prong, pierce. queen-2623776_640.jpg
  13. Mood: Foreboding. “Oo” and “Ow” sounds found in words such as: spook, gloom, doom, room, tomb, loom, hoot, mood, moon, owl, soul, howl, ooze, wound, growl, soothsayer.
  14. Mood: Judgement. “P” sounds found in words such as: police, penalty, apprehend, probate, probe, punish, punishment, protocol, deploy, pretend, appeal, parish, population, parole, plea, process, prison, position, parochial.hammer-802303_640
  15. Mood: Quizzical. “Q” sounds found in such words as: quiver, quest, quirk, question, quiz, querulous, quarrelsome, quips, quandary, qualm.
  16. Mood: Speedy, Fast, Fight Scenes. “R” sounds found in words such as: running, rugged, rock, race, rapid, hurry, rush, run, scurry, rip, flurry, car, cart, raging, rearing, torrent, rage, racing, whirr, burst, crack, fracture, rupture, break, grind, rub, crash, scrape, crunch, cripple.
  17. Mood: Secretive. “S” sounds found in words such as: silent, secret, slip, sneak, confession, mystery, suspicious, discreet, whisper, hiss, lisp, specter, spook, sniper, snare, snitch, snatch, snake, snoop.
  18. Mood: Contempt. “SL” sounds found in words such as: slime, slipshod, slippery, slop, slug, slush, slick, slither, sluice, lander, sleazy, slur, slacker, slapdash, sly, slay, slide, slope, slum, swill, slinking, scum.
  19. Mood: Authoritarian. “Str” sounds found in words such as: constrained, instruct, string, strong, strict, instructions, strain, stress, strive, strangle, strike, stronghold, strafe, struggle, strap, stride, astride, strop, straddle.
  20. Mood: Confusion. “Z” sounds found in words such as: maze, haze, dizzy, dazzled, fuzzy, buzz, fizzle, woozy, puzzled, dozing, snoozing, crazy, bamboozled.

What are some of the ways we can use these mood evocations in prose?

  1. Onomatopoeia: The word is the sound. You’ll recognize this technique from comic books. Smash! Boom! Crash! Wham! Boing! Zap!
  2. Alliteration: When two words start with the same sound. Use sparingly and only to emphasize something you want readers to remember later. Can also be effective for memorable titles, such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “War of the Worlds”, “Foxfire Five”.
  3. Assonance: Repeating a vowel sound in the middle of words strung close together. “Fear squeezed Deena’s chest as the moon cooed to her wolf within.”
  4. Consonance: Repeating the same consonant in the middle of words strung closely together. “The lucky attacker struck Deena quickly.”
  5. The Best For Last: End the sentence with the strongest word. “As the full moon enveloped Deena, pain invaded her skull.”

The Plot Thickens…Or Not?

The Plot Thickens…Or Not?

By Leigh Holland.

“Mom? Mo-om?” I heard my teenaged daughter call for me. She sounded so far away as I clickety-clacked away merrily at my keyboard. Should this character groan and lean his head back or put his head in his hands and sigh deeply? What’s keeping in line with his personality?


I jumped. I mean, I knew she was there, I just didn’t realize she was right there. “That’s my name.”

“Technically, your name is Leigh, not ‘mom’.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed quasi-dramatically. I decided to try speaking that “young folk” lingo to better connect with my offspring. “True that is.”

“No.” She said.

“No, what?”

“It’s not “true that is” it’s just “true that”. You’re not Yoda.” She grinned. I’m glad at least I amused her. “So, mom, I created these lit characters and I even made these incredible drawings of them. I know so much about them. But…I don’t know what to have happen to them in my story. I think I might have that thing that you’re always complaining very loudly about while you ignore your manuscript and surf the net. What’s that called again? Oh, yeah, writer’s block.”

“Hey,” it was my turn to correct her, “I don’t always surf the net. Sometimes I’m playing Town of Salem. Or Diablo. Or watching cat videos.”

“More like looking at memes.” She mumbled.

I pretended she said nothing. After all, why would I pass up this golden chance to be a helpful font of wisdom for my child? After pondering for a nano-second whether “lit” was some new slang abbreviation for “literature”, I continued. I decided it was.

“Well, it sounds like what you need is a “lit” plot.” I told her.

“Yeah, but no ideas are coming to me. I mean, where would I even start?”

How many plots are there? There are a variety of opinions on this topic. If you truly want to reduce things down to the common denominator, there’s only one plot. Or as Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, called it, the monomyth. The monomyth can easily be boiled down to a hero goes on a quest, facing challenges and overcoming in order to achieve a goal.

In The Basic Patterns of Plot, William Foster-Harris agrees that all plots come from the same basic source: conflict. Conflict drives the plot from start to finish. He advocates for a three plot world:

Type A: The hero makes a sacrifice for another and there is a happy ending.

Type B: The hero acts logically and fails to make a sacrifice.There is an unhappy ending.

Type C: A literary plot, one that hinges not on decisions of the hero, but on Fate itself. The critical event happens first and the ending is typically tragic.

Meanwhile, Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, expands the number to seven plots.

  1. Overcoming the Monster- The hero goes on a quest to overcome a great evil.
  2. Rags to Riches- A sad start leads to happiness at the end.
  3. The Quest- The hero goes on a quest to find something.
  4. Voyage and Return- The hero goes to a strange land or time and after facing challenges, returns home safely.
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Kurt Vonnegut posited that there are basic shapes to stories. Take a piece of paper. Write a vertical line to the left. In the center, draw a horizontal line across. The top half represents the ups and the bottom half below the line is the downs that your hero experiences from beginning to end. Chart it on the graph and it shows you the shape of your story. Your story will likely fit into one of 8 basic shapes. Check it out at The Shapes of Stories.

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Crouch’s list of seven plots were:

  1. Man against man
  2. Man against nature
  3. Man against himself
  4. Man against God
  5. Man against society
  6. Man caught in the middle
  7. Man and woman

John Lescroart, a bestselling author, prefers a list of eight plots. Here’s his take on plots:


The protagonist’s true potential for happiness and fulfilment is at last realised after many ups and downs.


The fatal flaw of the main character.


The debt that must be repaid when fate finally catches up with you, as Faust did when making a deal with the devil.


The eternal triangle.


The spider and the fly.


Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again (put these in any order you like).


The gift that is taken away.


The hero takes on all comers.

James Scott Bell in Plot and Structure came up with nine.

  1. The Quest
  2. Revenge
  3. Love
  4. Adventure
  5. The Chase
  6. One Against (The Underdog)
  7. One Apart
  8. Power
  9. Allegory

Ronald B. Tobias lists 20 plots in his work 20 Master Plots and How To Build Them.

1. Quest

The hero searches for something. They may be accompanied by a sidekick, who makes the hero look good as well as running his errands.

2. Adventure

The hero goes on an adventure. It’s not about character development or an artifact that saves his hometown, it’s about lots of action.

3. Pursuit

Catch Me If You Can

4. Rescue

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

5. Escape

The captive escapes, with little help from others, and may end up merging into the pursuit plot above. Usually, the captive was unjustly imprisoned.

6. Revenge

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

7. The Riddle

There’s a bomb on this bus and if we go below 60 miles per hour, the bus will explode.

8. Rivalry

Monte Cristo: May I steal your wife?

Fernand: Excuse me?

Monte Cristo: For the waltz?

9. Underdog

Rocky: I can’t do it.

Adrian: What?

Rocky: I can’t beat him.

Adrian: Apollo?

Rocky: Yeah. I been out there walkin’ around, thinkin’. I mean, who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league.

Adrian: What are we gonna do?

Rocky: I don’t know.

Adrian: You worked so hard.

Rocky: Yeah, that don’t matter. ‘Cause I was nobody before.

Adrian: Don’t say that.

Rocky: Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.

10. Temptation

I think I love my wife?

11. Metamorphosis

Werewolves! Shapeshifters! Mermaids! Oh, my!

12. Transformation

In this type of plot, a person, through a series of experiences and events, undergoes a metamorphosis of worldview or personality, typically for the better.

13. Maturation

A coming of age plot, the main character grows up, emerging from youth as a wiser and more capable adult.

14. Love

Two people fall in love, encounter obstacles and trials, overcome or resolve them, and end up together.

15. Forbidden Love

Jack Twist: I wish I knew how to quit you.

16. Sacrifice

Belle: [in the darkness] Who’s there? Who are you?

Beast: The master of this castle.

Belle: I’ve come for my father. Please, let him out! Can’t you see, he’s sick?

Beast: Then he shouldn’t have trespassed here!

Belle: But he could die! Please, I’ll do anything!

Beast: There’s nothing you can do! He’s my prisoner.

Belle: Oh, there must be some way I can.

[to the Beast]

Belle: Wait! Take me instead.

Beast: You?

Beast: You would take his place?

Maurice: Belle, no! You don’t know what you’re doing!

Belle: If I did, would you let him go?

Beast: Yes. But you must promise to stay here forever!

Belle: Come into the light.

[the Beast steps in the castle light to reveal himself; Belle gasps and turns away]

Maurice: No, Belle! I won’t let you do this!

Belle: You have my word.

Beast: Done!

17. Discovery

The hero discovers a terrible thing and must make a life-altering choice.

The Dead Zone

18. Wretched Excess

Trailer for the most depressing movie ever made.

19. Ascension

A jerk becomes a hero; a lower class person ascends to higher rank.

20. Descension

A person of high standing and/or moral fiber falls from grace. This plot is often combined with Ascension. Examples include “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Trading Places”.

And of course, there’s the list of 36 Dramatic Situations by George Polti.

Wikipedia provided a great summary with the elements and description of each:

    1. Supplication
      • a persecutor; a suppliant; a power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
      • The suppliant appeals to the power in authority for deliverance from the persecutor.
    2. Deliverance
      • an unfortunate; a threatener; a rescuer
      • The unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the threatener is to carry out justice, but the rescuer saves the unfortunate. Examples: Ifigenia in Tauride, Deliverance
    3. Crime pursued by vengeance
      • a criminal; an avenger
      • The criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the avenger seeks justice by punishing the criminal. Example: The Count of Monte Cristo
    4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
      • Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both.
      • Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both. Example: Hamlet
    5. Pursuit
      • punishment; a fugitive
      • the fugitive flees punishment for a misunderstood conflict. Example: Les Misérables
    6. Disaster
      • a vanquished power; a victorious enemy or a messenger
      • The vanquished power falls from their place after being defeated by the victorious enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the messenger. Example: Agamemnon (play)
    7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
      • an unfortunate; a master or a misfortune
      • The unfortunate suffers from misfortune and/or at the hands of the master. Example: Job (biblical figure)
    8. Revolt
      • a tyrant; a conspirator
      • The tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the conspirator. Example: Julius Caesar (play)
    9. Daring enterprise
      • a bold leader; an object; an adversary
      • The bold leader takes the object from the adversary by overpowering the adversary. Example: Queste del Saint Graal
    10. Abduction
      • an abductor; the abducted; a guardian
      • The abductor takes the abducted from the guardian. Example: Helen of Troy
    11. The enigma
      • a problem; an interrogator; a seeker
      • The interrogator poses a problem to the seeker and gives a seeker better ability to reach the seeker’s goals. Example: Oedipus and the Sphinx
    12. Obtaining
      • (a Solicitor & an adversary who is refusing) or (an arbitrator & opposing parties)
      • The solicitor is at odds with the adversary who refuses to give the solicitor an object in the possession of the adversary, or an arbitrator decides who gets the object desired by opposing parties (the solicitor and the adversary). Example: Apple of Discord
    13. Enmity of kin
      • a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
      • The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together. Example: As You Like It
    14. Rivalry of kin
      • the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
      • The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman. Example: Wuthering Heights
    15. Murderous adultery
      • two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
      • Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse. Example: Clytemnestra and Aegisthus
    16. Madness
      • a Madman; a Victim
      • The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim. Example: Horace and Pete
    17. Fatal imprudence
      • the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
      • The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.
    18. Involuntary crimes of love
      • a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
      • The Lover and the Beloved have unknowingly broken a taboo through their romantic relationship, and the Revealer reveals this to them Example: Oedipus, Jocasta and the messenger from Corinth.
    19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
      • the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
      • The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim. Example: Oedipus and Laius
    20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
      • a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
      • The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.
    21. Self-sacrifice for kin
      • a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
      • The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.
    22. All sacrificed for passion
      • a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
      • A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
    23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
      • a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
      • The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.
    24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
      • a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
      • A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.
    25. Adultery
      • two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
      • Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
    26. Crimes of love
      • a Lover; the Beloved
      • A Lover and the Beloved break a taboo by initiating a romantic relationship Example: Sigmund and his sister in The Valkyrie
    27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
      • a Discoverer; the Guilty One
      • The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
    28. Obstacles to love
      • two Lovers; an Obstacle
      • Two Lovers face an Obstacle together. Example: Romeo and Juliet
    29. An enemy loved
      • a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
      • The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
    30. Ambition
      • an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
      • The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary. Example: Macbeth
    31. Conflict with a god
      • a Mortal; an Immortal
      • The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
    32. Mistaken jealousy
      • a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
      • The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
    33. Erroneous judgment
      • a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
      • The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
    34. Remorse
      • a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
      • The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
    35. Recovery of a lost one
      • a Seeker; the One Found
      • The Seeker finds the One Found.
    36. Loss of loved ones
      • a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner
      • The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman

And most recently, researchers at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab using sentiment analysis discovered there may be only six basic plots. They are:

  • Fall-rise-fall, like Oedipus Rex
  • Rise and then a fall, like what happens to most villains
  • Fall and then a rise, like what happens to most superheroes
  • Steady fall, like in Romeo and Juliet
  • Steady rise, like in a rags-to-riches story
  • Rise-fall-rise, like in Cinderella

“Wow, Mom, that’s a lot of information. Now I think I have too many ideas instead of not enough!” My daughter said. “And now I’m in the mood for a movie and ice cream.”

“We could Netflix and chill.” I suggested.

She was livid. What had I said wrong?

“Mom, I don’t think that slang means what you think it means.”

I nodded knowingly. “But that one is obvious. It means we watch Netflix. And sit here and just chill out.”

“Nope. It means, uh, make out, and…stuff. So yeah, you sound creepy.”

I blinked rapidly. “Hmm. Well, that explains the weird looks the young people at the office give me when I say my best friend and I Netflix and chill every Friday night while your dad is out.”

“Shakin’ my head. I’ll get the ice cream. You remember how to turn on the TV with the remote, right?”

“I’m not that old! I’ll have you know in my household I was the tech guru growing up. I hooked up my parents’ Beta player for them.” I grumpily replied. “It’s the red button, right?”

“Yeah. What’s a Beta Player?”

Sigh. “Never mind.”

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #7: The Ally

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #7: The Ally

By Leigh Holland.

As the hero sallies forth on his quest, he (or she) needs a traveling companion. Sure, the hero has a mentor to give wise advice and nifty trinkets. But the hero needs someone who can help him understand himself, maintain perspective, move forward with hope in his heart, and keep him on the straight and narrow. Every human being needs a friend. Sometimes the hero may need to do certain things on her own. But the ally does something consistently for the hero no other role does. The ally gives loyalty and admiration to the hero. The ally is entirely dependable.

That doesn’t mean the ally never challenges the hero. It’s hard to maintain perspective as the hero, especially when fame and fandom starts rolling in. As the hero’s best friend, the ally will knock him down a peg or two if he needs it. The ally also serves as the hero’s conscience when the hero strays from the righteous path. The ally can always be counted on to act in what he thinks is the hero’s best interests, the hero’s desires be damned.

This is a wonderful and ancient example of the ally who challenges the hero, being what he needs instead of what he wants. This animated version of the story includes threshold guardians, a mentor, a shapeshifter and a trickster.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu

The ally represents the unexamined pieces of the hero. The ally converses with, questions, and challenges the hero as the need arises, drawing forth the noblest qualities within him or her; and the worst-saving him from being consumed by his own darkness. Often, the ally asks the very questions the reader (or viewer) has about the hero. Often, the ally (or “sidekick”) rounds out the hero’s persona.

Holmes and Watson 1

Holmes and Watson 2

Here’s a fun fight scene showing the ally as work partner and brother-in-arms, with a nice cameo at the end by the Shapeshifter archetype of the series.

Batman and Robin Vs. Most Everyone

And the ally also provides amusement and comic relief for the reader in serious and tense situations.

Lone Ranger and Tonto

Most importantly, the hero trusts the ally. The ally has earned it. We can always identify with the ally, even if our relationship with the hero is on thin ice at certain points of the story. We can’t always be the hero. But we can always strive to be a good friend and neighbor, a good ally.

An Ode To Brotherhood: Sam and Dean

Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort in Intl. Business Times

And often, the best heroes to inspire a writer… are real.

Heroes of Hurricane Harvey

Happy writing!

The Raw Ingredients of the Writing Recipe

The Raw Ingredients of the Writing Recipe

All About Genre #2

By Leigh Holland.

What is a “Story”? Most of us jump right into discussing characterization and how-to-tips, but we never seem to stop and ask ourselves this most fundamental question. A story is food for the mind and heart. Like most dishes, it follows a recipe. The basic recipe is:

Once upon a time and place, a hero went on a quest to achieve a goal, encountering conflict along the way.

Ideally, this recipe includes a climax and resolution as well. But this is the basic ‘story’ recipe. Every story has four raw ingredients. Without these, it’s not a very good story. These raw ingredients are the “PICS”, or the bigger picture:

  1. Plot– this is the sequence of events. Events occur in smaller segments known as scenes. Scenes can be broken down into even smaller segments, called ‘beats’. There are usually at least one or two sub-plots within a larger work, woven in and connected to it.
  2. Idea– this is the story seed. For it to work, it must develop from an idea into something more solid. My family plays a game on long car rides called the “What If” game. One person starts with a “what if” scenario. If the next person likes it, they expand on it. If not, they throw a new idea out. Here’s an example of one of our games:

What if zombies are really the next step in human evolution?

What if instead of trying to eat our brains, they’re trying to pass this gift of evolution on to us?

What if the zombies pity us because they’re immortal and we die?

What if the zombies live in superior cities far away and the survivors really live in the abandoned, inferior places?

What if the zombies don’t talk because they communicate telepathically with each other?

What if they’re deciding right now about whether or not to end the existence of the inferior survivors?

What if our zombie hero keeps trying to communicate with his mom and girlfriend, two survivors, and he’s desperate to stop the leaders?

3. Character– these are the people who inhabit the story. The main character and antagonist should be three-dimensional. Characters very close to the character should also have depth. Minor characters, not so much depth is needed. You need to be aware of the motivation of every character appearing in each scene, even if it’s just the paperboy determined to deliver the Sunday paper.

Three dimensions means we see: 1. The mask the character shows the rest of the world at large, including their body language, clothing style, general appearance, habits, and obvious quirks, 2. The mask beneath the first dimension, namely, the reasons behind the character’s choices and actions, including any elements of backstory essential to making the story work, and 3. The character laid bare under pressure, who the character truly is deep down when everything is on the line.

4. Setting– this is the time, place, environment, world that the story takes place in. To do this right may often require a lot of research and some travel. The setting isn’t just a pretty backdrop. The fictional world brings mood, meaning, and can tie into your theme.

Just as no two chili batches taste the same, no two writings are the same..png

What does this have to do with Genre?

All the genres and subgenres under the Fiction umbrella are stories. They all contain these four raw ingredients. In fact, each genre contains these elements in a specific amount. As we move along in the series, I’ll provide a recipe for how many parts of each raw ingredient goes into the recipe for that genre.

Isn’t that writing to a formula?

That’s like saying all chili is the same. I think these folks would disagree. No two cooks make chili the same way. I’ve never eaten two batches of chili, even from the same cook, that taste the same. There are so many endless variations on a single dish. In fiction, there are many “dishes” or genres, and there are endless variations on each dish, even when using the same raw ingredients.

I want my writing to be creative and dynamic.

And it certainly can be, even when writing with your audience’s expectations in mind. The tricky part is balancing their expectations of the genre and keeping it in tune with your developing story. There are other elements that every writer puts into their work that creates their own unique stamp, such as theme (meaning), all the details of the four elements above, narrative and descriptive voice, and how you build your scenes. Genre simply provides readers with a fairly broad set of expectations. What you do within that framework is up to you as the artist.

What is the most important element in a story?

If the PICS are the raw ingredients in our story recipe, conflict is the stove we cook it on. Raising the temperature at various points is like raising the stakes for the hero. Conflict arises from one or more of these elements and will continue until the source of the conflict is resolved.