Breaking Up With Aristotle: Alternate Plot Structures

Breaking Up With Aristotle: Alternate Plot Structures

To Aristotle With Love: We’re Done

 

So many contemporary playwrights claim to have “broken up” with Aristotle.

 

As in, “Ari, we love you and all, but you’re so old school. We’re done.”

 

The energy of the “action plot,where a protagonist has a goal and takes action to obtain that goal, is the plot of Aristotelian tragedy, and the most common organizing principal used when plotting.

 

Whether structured as an episodic early point of attack plot or crafted as a climactic late point of attack plot, it’s still following an active protagonist through his idealized “want” to achieve (or not to achieve) his ultimate high stakes goal. We identify with the protagonist on some level as our “hero,” and experience his journey vicariously through that emotional identification.

 

This is the plot of The Hero’s Journey. It’s the most common plot structure taught in grad school, film school and found in myth and novel from contemporary times to the days of the Greeks.  But it’s far from the only way to construct a plot.

 

Alternative Plot Structures

 

Searching for other structures, I came across film theorist Charles Ramirez Berg’s article A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the “Tarantino Effect.” 1

Berg noticed a trend of an increasing number of modern films that didn’t fall under the dominant energeic plot paradigm. He decided to classify films by these different plot types, and has come up with twelve categories, suggesting that this is just the beginning and not an all-inclusive list.

In theater we know that many types of plots exist, and though character goals can be a part of these plots, it’s not the only way in which to plot a story. But I found Berg’s attempts to categorize them fascinating, and great food for thought.

According to Charles Ramìrez Berg, films can thus be divided into 12 categories, arranged into three main groups based on the ways they deviate from the Hollywood paradigm:

  • plots based on the number of protagonists
  • plots with nonlinear temporality
  • plots that violate classical rules of subjectivity, foregrounded narration, and the narratives of goal-orientation, causality, and exposition.

 

PLOT BASED ON THE NUMBER OF PROTAGONISTS

1) The Polyphonic or Ensemble Plot – multiple protagonists, single location

2) The Parallel Plot – multiple protagonists in different times and/or spaces

3) The Multiple Personality (Branched) Plot

4) The Daisy Chain Plot – no central protagonist, one character or prop leads to the next

PLOT BASED ON RE-ORDERING OF TIME; NONLINEAR PLOTS

5) The Backwards Plot

6) The Repeated Action Plot – one character repeats action

7) The Repeated Event Plot – one action seen from multiple characters’ perspectives

8) The Hub and Spoke Plot – multiple characters’ story lines intersect decisively at one time and place

9) The Jumbled Plot – scrambled sequence of event motivated artistically, by filmmaker’s prerogative

PLOTS THAT DEVIATE FROM CLASSICAL RULES OF SUBJECTIVITY, CAUSALITY AND SELF-REFERENTIAL NARRATION

10) The Subjective Plot – a character’s internal (or “filtered”) perspective

11) The Existential Plot – minimal goal, causality, and exposition

12) The Metanarrative Plot – narration about the problem of movie narration

Different Plots, Same Dramatic Needs

 

Instead of a particular plot structure, let’s talk about serving the dramatic exigencies demanded by plot:

  • a dramatic arc that grounds the audience in a particular world (the beginning),
  • gradually builds in emotional intensity (the middle)
  • to a climax where certain “truths” are revealed and understood by an audience, and in that understanding, the dramatic action is resolved (the end).
  • It’s about the journey that you take the audience on, and how you make them feel on the way.

 

It’s how you make them feel.

 

I’ve seen circular plots revisit an action three times, each time ramping up the emotional intensity for the audience with new information; it works. I’ve read plays that were more character studies than plays, but the structure worked because the character was approached from different perspectives, each one more intense than the one before. It was very interesting. (Admittedly, this works better for plays than musicals, which need clearer plots and subplots to be successful.)

 

An audience goes to the theater to experience something different from their own life. As long as a play takes the audience on an interesting journey, holds their interest and engages their emotions or their intellect in an enjoyable (not confusing) way, plot structures can and should be as inventive and creative as possible. There’s more than one hero’s journey.

 

So – have I encouraged you yet to play around with structure? Take Berg’s 12 categories and start brainstorming.

 

What structures would YOU like to experiment with? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

1A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the “Tarantino Effect.” Charles Ramírez Berg, Film Criticism, Fall 2006; 31, 1/2; ProQuest Direct Complete pg. 5

 

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Create More Time

Create More Time

How are you doing so far on your 2019 goals?

Some people regard discipline as a chore. To me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.” – Julie Andrews

January set me back. There’s nothing like life happening to you to keep you humble.

Between the excitement, confusion and work adapting to life with two new puppies (adorable as they are, it is work), teaching two intersession Winter classes at Stony Brook and becoming very ill with the virus du jour that’s going around – well, let’s just say that at the end of January I am very far behind on my January goals.

It’s a good thing I plan my goals out quarterly, or I would be completely discouraged.

Are you anything like me? Are you already so far behind on your 2019 goals that you want to just hit the reset button?

 

Handling Overwhelm

 

There are a couple of things that help me to refocus when I’m about to just throw in the towel and give up.

  1. I plan my goals for the year quarterly, not monthly. This allows life to happen to me and keeps me from over-planning the year out in advance. Fewer goals keep the overwhelm in check, and still allows me to feel successful.
  2. I’ve been meditating consistently since the end of 2016. I can’t tell you how much healing and self-discovery it has brought me. When life threatens to overwhelm me, I am able now to step back and recognize that this is a step on the journey and to relax.
  3. My MasterMind group, my entrepreneur Master Class group and my accountability partners keep me on track. I’m able to be honest about my overwhelm with people who have been there and can offer real support and solutions.
  4. Committing to build this community online keeps me honest. I can’t give up, because this is the gritty journey we’ve committed to as artists and entrepreneurs. It comes as part of the package, and I’m right there in the thick of it just like everyone else.

 

Time Discipline

 

If I look back at my goals over the last few years the most consistent goal has been “Time Management.” Since I list the same goal year after year, it’s pretty evident that I still haven’t mastered it yet.

As I begin 2019 as a full time entrepreneur-artist, I am solely responsible for how I spend my time. Yikes.

Last week I met the incredible super-productive guru Ari Meisel of Less Doing, who totally inspired me and revealed more productivity solutions than I could keep up with. Some of his  suggestions I’m going to implement immediately, such as using Trello as my CRM and making more use of productivity apps such as IFTT and Zapier, but really, I learned that my time management and productivity problems come down to the need to manage my own mindset.

 

The Need for Routine

 

I read somewhere that every successful writer creates time to write. They don’t just sit down and write when inspiration hits, they create a routine every morning or evening to write for a specific amount of time whether they feel inspired or not.

It’s this creation of a routine that I’m finding priceless.

We’re all creature of habit. I’m now creating a habit that works for me instead of against me. Each morning I get my Starbucks coffee and sit to meditate (my Calm app tracks my sessions for me) because that’s just my habit. A painless and easy “check” to start my day off right. In her outstanding book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp also recounts the necessity of routine, saying, “By making the start of the sequence automatic, [artists] replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine.” For Tharp, her routine jumpstarts her creativity.

It’s not just humans who need this structure and routine. As I research how to raise and house train these puppies, the experts always stress the need to create a daily schedule. Their day should have a consistent flow of eating, going outside and playing to help their little systems adapt to our schedule. A structure frees them and us to coexist more peacefully, something I’m appreciating very much indeed!

Wolves are disciplined not only when they hunt but also when they travel, when they play, and when they eat. Nature doesn’t view discipline as a negative thing. Discipline is DNA. Discipline is survival.”
― Cesar Millan, Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems

In creating that routine to housebreak them, I’m reminded of my own need to discipline my time and activities. It’s not just for the puppies!

 

Creating a Routine is a Process

 

So now for 2019, my new schedule flows like this:

  • 6:30 Wake up, get everyone out the door (including walking puppies)
  • 7:00 Feed puppies, household chores
  • 8:00 Morning meditation with coffee
  • 9:00 Writing
  • 12:00 Exercise
  • 1:00  Clients
  • Somewhere between 5-6 I’ll break for dinner
  • After dinner I allow myself some freedom 🙂

 

How do you feel about this? Do you find that having a disciplined time to write helps keep you on track?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! We’re all in this together.

Share it with us here in the comments as we support each other on this journey.

Are you interested in joining a community that has your back, holds you accountable to you goals and inspires you on the way?

Email me at cate@createtheater.com to know more.