Lots of films have followed relatively the same plot construction…
Take the “Heist went fine but things go to crap after that” …. That has been used so many times: The Killing, Asphault Jungle, Rififi, countless other noirs, Reservoir Dogs…
Yet all of those films are widely considered great. What are some other commonly used plot outlines that are done over and over and over. Which ones get old after a few films, and which ones will continue as long as the art of film exists?
And is it ok to use basically the same thing as other films? Even when it’s been done several times? What merits the use of this as being ok as opposed to not being ok?
All thoughts are welcome.
Well, I’m sure someone will bring up the idea that there a limited number of basic plots to which all stories pretty much adhere, the exact number of these plots vary according to who is compiling the lists and how much they abstract them or in how they decide what constitutes “difference”, but the idea is that most stories follow a set of patterns in terms of plotting that are not very extensive, and it is the variations on those basic units that make for the interest in the stories. This latter idea seems to ring true to me in that the use of familiar themes or situations allows the audience to better detect the variations which is where the “meaning” of the story is found. These variations can come from character in that the way one person will handle a situation differs from another, or they can come from variations in the situation itself forcing the character to respond somewhat differently from related circumstances, or the variations can deal with other elements of the setting, time, circumstance or people involved. The plot itself isn’t so important, it is the detail that will provide the interest. (Even in non-representation forms of art there are still sorts of “conflicts” that develop and need to be resolved, so the things I mentioned above shouldn’t be seen as being exhaustive, just illustrative.)
Oh, and just to be clear, I personally don’t have any strong opinion on whether there are or aren’t some definable number of basic plots, I wouldn’t have the range of knowledge to really judge such a thing. It’s just that the notion serves to illustrate my feelings about why the plot isn’t the matter of most direct importance to people, or even why they might desire some familiarity with them.
I see. I think there are a definite number of plots out there and that what makes a film good is it’s craftmanship and variations from previous films using that same basic story.
However, it feels to me like there are several films that don’t vary ENOUGH from one another and are still considered great?
right, there are a minimum number of plots out there, though there are competing concepts/practitioners of dramatic writing/screenwriting as to exactly how many there are (some say 7, some say 36, some say 3). i’ve always remembered them as 4, dating back to 11th grade:
man v man/man v self/man v nature/man v society
in the heist film example, yeah it seems endlessly replenishable b/c it’s the perfect metaphor, a person or group of persons has the ideal plan but their flaw/s effs the whole thing up. which i think every person can relate to on some level. i don’t know how you could vary that narratively and still keep it dramatically compelling. i suppose you could show someone executing the perfect heist and let it stay there but it’s the flaw/failure that stays w/ you.
I think when you break it down, there’s four as Brian already stated (man v man/man v self/man v nature/man v society). This is the challenge of writing though because one is restricted from the get-go. This is what’s kind of hilarious about people railing on about a film having “too much style” and “not enough substance” – do they realize that the predominant aspect of a story is its style and approach to its cliched substance?
Sure, when Francis Bacon was writing New Atlantis, he had a bit more freedom with the substance of the work (it predates Gulliver’s Travels by the way), but nowadays, after centuries of countless writers’ contributions to the art, the modern writer works more with style than substance (though, of course, Bacon utilised quite a bit of style himself back in the day) – though, truth be told, the two are inseparably connected…but that’s for another discussion perhaps.
All writing is dependent on conflict and there’s only a handful of general conflicts that can be applied to humanity (we’re simple creatures really). This doesn’t mean that every little facet of such conflicts can’t be explored in new ways, but the “substance” of a work is greatly reliant on how it’s presented – and that (I believe) can be done an infinite number of ways.