Science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein said there were only three plots. His theory was that plot arises from character change, and there are only three ways people can change:
- The "boy meets girl" plot, in which a person changes because of another person's influence. The influencer could be a lover, teacher, friend, child. One example is Beauty and the Beast, in which the Beast changes because Beauty accepts him.
- The "little tailor" plot in which circumstances force a person to discover inner strengths he did not know he possessed. (In the fairy tale, the little tailor slays giants.)
- The "man learns better" plot, in which a character changes because he tests his previous ideas about the world against reality. Often he becomes sadder but wiser. King Midas learns too late that he would rather have his daughter than all the world's gold
I'm not sure that I believe that all plots arise from character change. Maybe they do, but I guess it's not how I think about them. All three of my teenager thrillers (Shock Point is out now, the other two are in the works) are "little tailor" plots, which perhaps all thrillers are. But that doesn't help me think more clearly about them.
I remember reading Heinlein's novels for teens (boys in space with slide rules) and then at the age of 12 going upstairs to the adult department and checking out his adult sci-fi. What an eye-opener! Everyone was happily having sex with everyone else. One of his most interesting books was about a powerful but dying man who has his healty brain transplanted into the body of someone who has just died – and it just turns out to be his sexy young secretary. Then he's confused. Should he be making passes at the cute nurses or accepting the advances of his oldest friend? While this was before the only openly gay guy at our high school got his jaw broken - twice - for being who he was, it did make me start wondering what was so wrong with being gay.