Seven is considered a lucky number by most. For writers, however, seven may be unlucky–or at least confining. Seven is the reputed number of plots we all have to work with when crafting our work. Seven. So how on earth can anything new ever be written?
I am a die-hard plotter and when I realized that I only had seven to choose from, I was shocked and dismayed. How would I ever be able to write all the works I had churning in my head with only this small, finite number of plots to pull from?
Surprisingly, though, seven is more than enough because the writer brings with them the one thing that explodes that seven into an infinite number of possibilities: imagination.
Plot, when it all boils down, is a guideline, a blueprint for what happens in the story, specifically, the order in which things happen. Story is what happens, who it happens to, and how it happens in the work. Combinations of these elements, fired by our imagination, are what has created the millions of works of fiction throughout the ages.
Even more encouraging, each writer is an individual with individual experiences to bring to the table, individual wisdom to be imparted, individual likes and dislikes to be emphasized or hidden. Therefore, the writer suddenly has an infinite number of stories at her fingertips to pluck and set down, limited now only by her talent to compose and the time it takes her to do so.
My favorite example of one plot treated different ways is the ultimate romance plot: boy meets girl and they fall in love against their families’ wishes. They have problems, they come up with a solution to the problems. This is the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This is also the plot for Twilight. The first time I described Twilight as “Romeo and Juliet with vampires” I got stared at and not in a good way! But it’s true. Same plot, different imagination at work. In fact, I describe my medieval book Time Enough to Love as “Romeo and Juliet with the bubonic plague and a happy ending.”
So play God. Take one of those seven plots as your bones, sculpt the flesh with your circumstances and complications, and breathe life into it through your diverse characters. All of a sudden, you have a work as different from all the others as you are from other writers.