Superplot.org is a project by and for authors. Initiator is dramaturge and author J.C. Mohring, who introduces himself at this point …
J. C. Mohring holds a degree in film dramaturgy and worked as an editor for a film studio. He has published several books on creative writing and gives seminars. His first novel was published in 2017. In 2020 he founded the website Superplot.org, which allows authors to exchange ideas about plots and writing.
Is literary success a coincidence or is there perhaps a formula?
I ask this question again and again in my seminars. And I am quite astonished that most people assume that everything is left to chance. Coincidence is nothing but gambling. Is it possible that the success of great authors such as Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Dürrenmatt or Goethe happened purely by chance? That would mean that these people have drawn a Lotto 6 several times in a row, so to speak. Do you really believe that? Do you really believe in the coincidence of success for authors?
It’s more like talent. But not everyone can write brilliantly by nature. Why are there so many seminars? “Become a writer in 90 days” or “Become a screenwriter!” Not everyone who attends such a seminar becomes a successful writer, but through certain techniques you can learn the basics of writing and write quite decent books if you keep at it and don’t give up.
But very few people can write really successfully. Perhaps there is a good portion of talent in it after all? Maybe there is. But I have been convinced for several decades that the success of an author depends on certain basic formulas for stories, so-called story archetypes. It is also important that the work follows a successful structure, such as that described by Syd Field. But it is even more important that you as an author recognize and serve eternal, almost mythical narrative patterns and motives.
My professor Reinhard Döhl (1934-2004), himself also an author and artist, from the University of Stuttgart brought me into contact with the book “Motifs of World Literature” (1976) by the literary scholar Elisabeth Frenzel (1915-2014) during a seminar. He raved about the book and said that every student of German should own this work. When I finally held it in my hands and read a few pages, I knew immediately that this book was something very special.
“Motifs of World Literature” looked at poetry on a different, on a new level. The author of the book recognized common structures, patterns or motifs in thousands of stories. For example, Elisabeth Frenzel recognised the motif of the “homecomer” in various stories. In her book, she always first explains the motif and then illustrates it with various examples from poetry, such as Homer’s “Odyssey” or Schiller’s “The Robbers”. I suddenly realized that my professor was right and that this book was a little treasure chest.
The German language and literature studies should serve me as a stepping stone to study at a film school. The Film University Potsdam-Babelsberg accepted me as a student in the subject “Film and Television Dramaturgy”. I wanted to become a screenwriter. At least that was my goal. At first I was overjoyed to have been accepted at a film school. But the joy soon disappeared. I wrote several feature film scripts during my studies, submitted them, but was turned down. I realised that something was missing. And that wasn’t talent.
Since I was a big movie fan, I missed some kind of story formula for the movie. Something like what I had read in Elisabeth Frenzel’s book, there had to be something like that for the film. For this reason and during my studies I travelled to California, to Los Angeles, to do research in the bookshops and libraries there. But I did not find a book with the hoped-for content. I was convinced that this formula had to exist for the film and was enthusiastic about this idea.
After successfully completing my studies, I continued my research and thought intensively about my story formula. I wanted to move away from genres to explore stories on a content-based level. My first reference book “Dramaturgie made in Hollywood” (2007) was created through years of detailed work and the viewing of over 1000 films. I divided stories into eight genres, such as love (love story), friendship (adventure film), profession (crime thriller) and so on.
The book sold well and was accepted by many national and foreign libraries. But I realized that the book was not practical enough. “Dramaturgy made in Hollywood” was not the key to the hoped-for success.
I continued to analyze films, series and novels. By now I had read and seen about 5000 books or movies. One day the idea came to me for a new approach when I leafed through the book “Motifs of World Literature” by Elisabeth Frenzel, which I had forgotten for years. The author described many love motifs in her work, I noticed. For example “The secret love affair”, “Incest” or “The injured honor of a husband”. I realized that the motives of world literature could also be transferred to film. In the meantime I had seen and read enough to be able to master this task myself.
I started with the genre of “love” and wrote the book “Powerful Myths for Screenwriting: Creating a Successful Hollywood Love Story” (2017). The whole thing was conceived as a multi-volume series of works for different genres. But this first book was not understood by the market. I sent it to several magazines, associations and editorial offices. Nobody recognized the potential of this book, and that I was trying to create general and universal story archetypes about the genres.
I stayed with it and discovered further formulas for adventure films, for crime thrillers and for thrillers. This resulted in “Das große Lehrbuch für Autoren” (2019). In this book I called the general narrative motives still masterplots, based on the book by Ronald B. Tobias “20 Masterplots” (1993). But Tobias understands his masterplots much more generally than I understand my plots. I had to rethink and find my own term for my plots. It didn’t take long until the term “Superplot” was born to describe successful plots.
In the meantime, some authors have realized that superplots are an important basis for writing. For these authors the site Superplot.org is developed and designed. You can also help with this.
Superplot.org is a collaborative site for authors. It is supposed to be a real help for writers in their work. Anyone who wants to can participate and contribute ideas for new super plots. Only by helping each other and helping together can something great be created.