Lately I've been reading about how movie and television producers are eagerly looking for new and original stories. But how "original" a story are they willing to accept? It seems the movie industry wants screenplays with cookie-cutter "3 act structures". Since "The Third Thaw" has six parts, perhaps that's too much to cram into a 2 hours time frame. Oh well,... how about a television series?
Novel writers also tend to use standard plot structures which have proven appeal. We usually like to read stories about "a mission", where a hero has a goal that is obstructed by a villain, eventually leading to the hero becoming a martyr defeating the villain. It is conflict which keeps us turning the pages to see what happens next. But if a writer doesn't follow expected norms in plot structure and subject matter, there is a risk his/her novel will not be accepted. Again, just how original can a story be to be accepted?
(Ah hem,.... about to go into lecture mode...)
This leads me to one of my favorite writers, Theodore Dreiser, who wrote truly original novels. He was a rule breaker, writing about unconventional subjects which some readers of his era found disturbing.
When Dreiser's first book, "Sister Carrie", was first published by Doubleday, Page and Company in 1900, the publisher's wife, Mrs. Doubleday, found the book so disturbing and immoral, the publisher decided to make no effort to market the book. It was like shoving a literary masterpiece inside a drawer for no one to read! Amazingly, in 1906, Dreiser was able to purchase the plates from Doubleday for $550, so that another publisher could print the book. In this roundabout fashion, the public finally discovered Dreiser's novel, which survived near extinction and became one of the most important literary works of the new century
If you haven't read it, please check it out. This book takes place in Chicago, about the time of the 1893 World's Fair. This is when Chicago represented something original in America, and not simply a neo-European cultural derivation. Chicago had become the food distribution central point of America; it had original American architects, such as Sullivan, Burnham and Wright; it was the birthplace of tall buildings, built with structural steel frames, and department stores, such as Marshall Fields.
Theodore Dreiser's depiction of how people lived during that time era is so minutely rendered, readers will feel as if they are there. There are two main characters: Carrie and George. When Carrie arrives in Chicago, she is young and has nothing; by the end of the book, she has achieved great success in New York City. George, on the other hand, is quite successful, with a family and children – until he meets and falls in love with Carrie; after that, his life unravels, as he falls into complete and utter despair. Therefore the plot structure of this story illustrates diametrically opposing character arcs: Carrie becomes successful, whereas George becomes a failure.
The book begins as almost a trivial romance novel; but by the end, Dreiser's depiction of the ultimate failure of George is one of the most powerful social statements and tragedies I’ve ever read. Dreiser was a passionate writer, who excelled at describing details and inner thoughts.