Every story utilizes one of seven basic plots. They are:
1. Man v (Wo)man
This, the most typical story, is about the man who has an argument with his wife one night over whether she will make his lunch for him to take to work the next day. He likes a turkey sandwich and a piece of fruit. He has a job but she can’t find one, so he thinks she should make his lunch. He doesn’t realize that she can’t find a job because she is a mean sort of person, and not many people like her. Worse, her face is covered in stains and she doesn’t know how to end conversations in the office. He insists that she make his lunch, not realizing that the cramps she feels when reminded of her unemployment are sharpened by his expectations of subservience. They argue, agendas throbbing like a stubbed toe. At last, too embarrassed to resist further, she makes his lunch while he sits at the kitchen table drinking a beer. That night they sleep in separate parts of their bed. In the morning he wakes up and checks his email before getting into the shower, and sees that he has been asked to take a client to lunch that day. He will not need to take his lunch after all. He feels a rush of tender feelings and guilt, and he is able to share a few of these feelings with his wife. They embrace. She promises him that she will keep his lunch in the refrigerator, safely stored, so that he can take it to work the following day. By the time he returns home from work that evening, his wife has not yet decided whether or not to remove the Ipecac-laden pudding that she tucked between his sandwich and apple. Ipecac is a very strong laxative-purgative.
2. Man v Nature
Wash the car and it rains. Go outside without an umbrella and it rains. Try to have a little vegetable garden in that fenced-off part of the backyard, and the plants get attacked by snails and crows, and then it never rains. Pissed off, you open the refrigerator and a Bengal tiger jumps out. You wrestle it to the death and have a beer. A homebrew you made from plants you gathered around the neighborhood.
3. Man v Environment
A man eats too much fast food and the growth hormones the hamburger-cattle eat cause him to grow enormous breasts. He wants to open a dry cleaning business in his backyard but the neighbors prevent him because he can’t figure out how to dispose of the cleaning chemicals without infecting the ecosystem. He tries to grow a lawn and his neighbors all offer conflicting advice, so he ends up with the only front yard on the street covered in brown stains. He paints the trim on his garage a brick-red color and one of his neighbors comments that the color looks “like a monkey’s ass.” One of the neighbor’s kids, a five year old boy, stands in his front yard in his underwear holding his ears, jumping up and down and screaming, for several hours a day. No one seems to complain. Zoning laws can be so arbitrary, so fickle. The man applies for a permit to open a muffler repair shop and the permit board turns him down. Some days, he just wants to cry. This story never has a happy ending. Either the man goes mad and hops up and down on his front lawn holding his ears and screaming, or he becomes just like the neighbors. Exactly like them, down to their fatty white teeth.
4. Man v Machine
Same as #1., but this time the wife is a robot.
5. Man v The Supernatural
The Green Ghoul chases the meddling kids down the staircase, heading right for the trap, but then one of the kids falls backwards and to break his fall he hits the switch on the giant fan and by mistake it goes into High Speed Reverse. This is the fan that was supposed to blow the Green Ghoul along a bubble-laden path, straight into the washing machine. Instead, the fan crashes into the ironing board and the kid and his dog are sitting on the ironing board and they fly out one window and then in through another, and they bump into the Green Ghoul, who steps onto a roller skate and slides all the way across the room to where he crashes into a suit of armor. The kids grab the Green Ghoul and unmask him to reveal Mr. Shipley, the owner of the “haunted” amusement park.
6. Man v Self
A man finds that whenever the NASDAQ 100 is going to have a positive day, he wakes in the morning with his left ring finger engorged with blood, so much blood that he can not bend it. The same thing happens whenever the American National Security Advisor appears in a television commercial or video. After much trial and error, he realizes that the only way he can cure this affliction (which, through a complicated series of introspective scenes, is revealed to be a metaphor for “modern life”) is by doing something that is explained in graphic detail with his daughter’s Little Mermaid action figures. Every night under the bedcovers, he plays and sings sea-songs softly. Then one night his wife and daughter surprise him! It’s an intervention! He breaks down and sobs, “I can’t help it. I hate myself.” His wife and daughter want to put him into a treatment center, but the doctors there prod him with felt-tipped needles and stereo wire. Self-loathing and afraid, he flees and becomes notorious; he spends many years on the road having mild adventures. Toward the end of the story, he appears at his daughter’s college graduation. She recognizes him and kicks him in the shins. Stories like this can be exciting, if told well. Toward the end of one of these well-told stories, the man will spend some time alone in the woods or a hotel room “looking deep inside himself.” If the book is particularly well done, the end of each chapter will feature bullet-pointed “lessons” that can be applied to your everyday life.
7. Man v God
Every day, the man whose wife makes lunch for him also drives him to the train station before taking their two sons to school. Some mornings the boys tell their father the dreams they had the night before. Sometimes the wife joins in. One particular morning, Son #1 says, “Daddy, last night I dreamed that you were being unfair to Biscuit. You said that Biscuit was taking up too much of your time and you hated walking him and feeding him every night. You said he stole the Sports page out of the paper every morning and told you the baseball scores when you took him for a walk. So you sold him to a dog-carnival without telling us.” The man’s wife shares her dream from the night before: “I was at school taking pictures of the kids and there were some other camera crews there and they had very nice cameras – yes, ours is very nice too; I know you spent seven days of internet research choosing it – but then I lost ours and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I didn’t know how to tell you because I knew you’d be mad so I stayed at school. I stayed there all night.” Son #2 then says to his father, “In my dream we went out to dinner at Chirpy’s like we did last week and you got really mad at the waiter like you did last week and this time in my dream you beat up the waiter but this time the waiter was Jesus so you beat up Jesus.” The man gets out of the car at the train station. Listening to the dreams has left him shaken. He can barely climb onto the train when it arrives. His self-image is torn and jagged – he had considered himself a kind, sensitive man, but suddenly wonders if the world perceives him as an ogre. The train passes through a tunnel and he catches his reflection in the window and turns away. His hands are shaking. He is hypoglycemic and he is shaking. He grabs his lunch box, seeking something to calm his stomach, calm his bloodstream. He opens his lunchbox: Pudding!
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