I love it when I read a great book and then find another book by the same author with a similar plot. Sometimes I get so familiar with an author that I can predict the plot of a book before I open it.
Here's an example:
Basic Harry Potter Plot Summary
- Harry is at the Dursleys for the summer and he’s miserable.
- An event happens before Harry gets to school. After it’s over, Harry visits Diagon Alley (or Mrs. Weasley visits it for him) and takes the train to Hogwarts.
- Harry arrives at Hogwarts and finds out who the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is (who is always someone Harry’s met before school started).
- Harry gets a lot of homework and Quidditch practice and games happen.
- Major events occur on Halloween and/or Christmas.
- Harry, Ron and Hermione are trying to solve a mystery.
- Harry and friends study for exams. In the afternoon after the last exam, the answer to the mystery is suddenly discovered.
- The climax of the book occurs and something terrible or miraculous happens. Harry meets Voldemort and narrowly avoids death. The climax lasts all evening and takes up several chapters of the book. At the end of it, Harry ends up in the hospital wing.
- Dumbledore explains it all.
- Harry deep in thought about whatever happened during the climax, takes the train home and dreads another summer with the Dursleys.
Of course, there are deviations to this structure in various books. Harry doesn’t take the train to Hogwarts in Chamber of Secrets, he doesn’t meet Voldemort in Prisoner of Azkaban (although Voldemort is discussed during the climax), he doesn’t play Quidditch in Goblet of Fire, etc. But basically, if you think about it, the events listed above happen in Books One through Six.
**Begin spoiler alert. Don’t read the comment below unless you’ve read the Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.**
One of the things I love in Book Seven is that Dumbledore STILL explains it all. He doesn’t let a minor thing like death stand in his way of summing up the entire plot and explaining every mystery that’s happened during the book.
**End spoiler alert**
Stock plot summaries can work for lots of books. Take a look at this one:
Basic Amelia Bedelia Plot Summary
It only takes five steps.
- Mrs. Rogers gives Amelia Bedelia a list of things to do and then leaves the house.
- Amelia Bedelia bakes a pie before she starts working on the list.
- Amelia Bedelia does every item on the list and takes each task literally.
- Mrs. Rogers comes home to find that the house is a big mess and that Amelia Bedelia hasn’t done anything correctly.
- Amelia Bedelia’s pie makes everything better again.
This always makes me wonder. Hasn’t Mrs. Rogers figured out by now that Amelia Bedelia is an incompetent maid? Why doesn’t she hire someone else? Amelia Bedelia can open a bakery and contract on the side with Mrs. Rogers to bake pies.
And it's not always plot devices. Some authors seem to have lists of characters that often appear in their books. Here are several reoccurring characters from one of my favorite authors:
L.M. Montgomery's Stock Characters
For those of you who have just read Anne of Green Gables series, believe me, these characters surface in nearly every other L.M. Montgomery book.
- A female ingénue who is deeply in love with the house she lives in. She often has a teaching degree and sometimes a college degree (unusual for the time period). She has a creative imagination and writes stories and sells them to magazines for a small profit. She is usually (but not always) an orphan. The story is always told for her point of view.
- A handsome, perfect male who grew up with the female ingénue. He crosses signals with her multiple times and moves away (a letter is usually lost or destroyed.) But he always manages to come back three pages from the end of the book at the perfect moment and declare his undying love.
- An older female who takes care of the ingénue in a strict and no-nonsense way. She is usually not the ingénue's mother.
- An older man who falls in love with the ingénue. He proposes and is engaged to the ingénue, but she only sees him as a friend and she eventually breaks the engagement. (Not in the Anne books, but in many others).
Secondary characters (optional, but usually included)
- A wonderful housekeeper that the family couldn’t live without who has a mother that occasionally gets ill.
- A gossipy female neighbor who does beautiful needlework and feels there's a enormous difference between Presbyterians and Methodists. (Presbyterians are always favored.)
- A female friend who's had a rough life and only opens up to the ingénue.
- A female friend or sister that dithers for years over which of two identical men she should marry, and then falls in love with a third man and marries him immediately.
- A rich, crotchety elderly woman who dies and leaves her fortune to the ingénue.
- Small children who have big imaginations and provide amusing stories about adventures and local people. (The stories are typically the same from book to book.)
- A town doctor who makes house calls. (In the Anne books, he’s a primary character).
- A town minister.
- A farm on
near a small town, where everybody’s primary occupation seems to be keeping track of the entire life histories of everyone else. Prince Edward Island
There are a few obvious exceptions. The
I love these kinds of books when they're written by a favorite author. Sometimes it's great to find many variations on the same theme. And just because stock characters or basic plot points are used, doesn't mean the books aren't original and delightful.
Also, it makes me intrigued about an author's life and when I see obvious patterns, I like to research them. A lot of it tends to be based in fact as authors frequently write what they know.
Compare the stock characters to L.M. Montgomery's actual life. Her mother died shortly after she was born and she was raised by farm on
Unfortunately, though, I'll never get to read a Harry Potter book again for the first time. And after a trip to
And sometimes, only one book really rises to the top. I liked The DaVinci Code and read other books by Dan Brown. I was disappointed that not only were they all the same, but The Da Vinci Code (which still had flaws) was the best.
If you found this post by googling "Anne of Green Gables characters" or "Harry Potter plot summary," please don't use what I've written above for any kind of informational purposes. They're just generalizations, and I hope that you read the books discussed above if you haven't before. Despite what I said, each one truly is unique and I've enjoyed every one. (Some more than others, of course).
How about you? Is there an author whose plot summary, typical setting and stock characters you know even before you start reading one of their books? Post it below. If you chose to write your own post about it, I'd love to see it and please include the link in the comments.