...they are almost always wrong. For example, those ancient Greeks thought they had the human body all figured out with four humors. BZZZZ. Wrong!
People say that San Francisco is 49 square miles—7 x 7. Not true! But seven by seven is easy to remember, and so that’s what gets said. At least it’s reasonably close to the truth, and no one charges you money to hear it.
However, a huge industry exists selling plotting "truths" to writers--it began with screenwriters, many of whom are budding directors who wanted to get through the scriptwriting stage of their careers as soon as possible. But I've watched it spread to novel writing as well, and I've got to tell you, hearing people pontificate about the number of plots in the world, especially people who want to sell you expensive how-to books, seminars, or programs, makes me want to don a cape and tights, and rescue the innocent, sincere writers who get bilked every year.
True confession: I once sat through a Robert McKee seminar until I couldn't bear the misinterpretations of Casablanca any more. I left, unwilling to waste my time as well as money. I also have a "how to write" instruction course in two volumes from the early 1920s. Oi!
Always remember that people are selling you something. Writing is hard, and plotting a story vexes most people, as it can feel like math, or a mine field. It’s comforting to think you can simply choose between one of seven templates and then get busy dressing the skeleton of your story with your own unique voice and vision. And people will pay other people money to be told this comforting lie. But the hard truth about really good writing is that it’s much harder than that. Reductive logic grinds the art out of things. Beware!
The whole story structure-industrial complex (because it is a multi-million dollar industry) is built on the Eurocentric vision of Aristotle’s Poetics, minus the annoying bits like women can’t be protagonists (I’m paraphrasing). That’s right, every single “plot” guru out there is working from Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, which is adapted from portions of Aristotle’s Poetics.* Go watch a French or Chinese film and then come back and tell me there are only seven basic plots. All seven plots might appear in the first two acts of a Chinese film.
Finally, and most importantly, plot can’t be severed from character or theme.* The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly the ambiguity/difficulty that the plot gurus try to seduce you away from. Too damn bad. Suck it up, soldier. Here’s the deal: you know how matter and energy are simply two views of the same thing? You knew that, right? Or how technique actors and method actors start from opposite ends of the acting craft but end up with the same great acting? Well, plot IS character IS theme. They are just different views of the same thing.
That’s probably hugely annoying to hear. I’m sorry. But you can’t just pick a plot from column A, characters from column B, and slap on a premise and some themes. The character’s flaws must be exercised by the conflict (plot) that occurs. The premise must be proved by the consequences of the protagonists actions. The themes must be brought to life by the events and the characters who make them transpire.
But don't believe me. Believe Kurt Vonnegut.
So go forth, free from the obligation of even listening to plot gurus. They’re hucksters, and they’ve been at it since at least Aristotle’s time. Their reductive vision can only harm your art. It’s YOUR JOB to go out there and figure out how things work for the kinds of stories you want to tell, that you must tell. Which you can only do by writing. Of course, working directly with friends or a mentor or instructor can be very valuable. But there simply are no templates to great works of fiction, because each great story is as unique as it is universal.
Write on, my friend. Travel, make mistakes, spend too much money on friends or clothes, but whatever else you do, write. And don't feed the writing gurus with your hard-earned cash. No one can make writing easy.
* I don't include Joseph Campbell in the structure-industrial complex. He worked straight from source material and added a few things instead of “xeroxing” ideas down. Also, he's an accomplished writer in his own right.