4. Recycling Plots

 

Lucretia was certainly neither the first nor the last to live through a similar story (“woman who submits to man she does not love for the sake of the man she does”). In fact, this story has been recycled so many times that it has entered the collective consciousness, and yet each time is just seems different. Think of Tosca, We the Living, Shakespeare in Love, Slumdog Millionaire, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Moulin Rouge—all share, in one way or another, the same storyline.

The harder it is for the characters, the more suspenseful and intricate the conflict of values.

Lucretia’s story could certainly be made more dramatic at every turn. There could be so many different details, and yet it would always boil down to the same plot.

Old plots are constantly recycled and revamped.

Old plots are constantly recycled and revamped.

Perhaps our Lucretia could be a fashionable 21st century woman who makes love to a professor of great creative capacity. She could truly admire this man, and he could love her deeply, but her heart lies with another man, her boyfriend and childhood sweetheart, a disillusioned screenwriter on the verge of despair after years of writer’s block. The professor’s mind is so fertile with creative ideas that she sleeps with him to go through his papers at night and to have literary discussions with him, so that she can subtly transmit them to her husband, to make him think that they are his own. To make it worse, this very professor and her boyfriend hate are enemies.

You have to make it hard for your characters; if they have it too easy—if, for instance, our professor would be so benevolent to simply write stories for the boyfriend, or if, better still, the boyfriend simply never got writer’s block and wrote happily ever after—there would be no story, no conflict, no climax. It is when the going gets tough for the characters that the standard themes we feel are so cliché finally become original and wonderful.

The higher the stakes and the tighter the story, the better the climax.