This line of thought led me to envision the chart at the end of this essay. This is definitely evidence I've sat through too many corporate presentations! Still, I thought it might be useful for other writers. Basically, most stories are going to fit in four broad boxes. You can write about ordinary people doing ordinary things. You can write about ordinary people swept up in exceptional circumstances. (I've put 1984 and Grapes of Wrath in this category. In both cases, average people are faced with challenges most readers would consider extraordinary.) You can also write about extraordinary people doing exceptional things. I've placed Harry Potter and Ender's Game in this category. These are stories about characters who possess abilities beyond those of ordinary people, swept up in grand events where the fates of thousands of people are on the line. My own writing tends to fall into this box.
Finally, one could also write about extraordinary people doing mundane things. Watchmen has plenty of world-shaking action, but I put it in this category because so many of the memorable scenes involve superhuman characters doing ordinary things like eating, attending funerals, and sleeping together. Yeah, it's impressive when Dr. Manhattan teleports to Mars, but that sort of stuff happened all the time in comic books. On the other hand, there's a scene where Rorshach is eating beans directly from a can as he talks with another character. You've never seen Batman doing this. My novel Nobody Gets the Girl taps into this formula for some chapters, like when Nobody and the Thrill go to a shopping mall and eat in a food court. But, I wracked my brain trying to think of a book that stayed completely in this box and couldn't. On the other hand, it's a favorite formula for television sit coms. The Munsters is one extreme, but shows like Big Bang Theory also belong in this box, where genius physicists are seen eating at cheesecake factory, shopping for comic books, and doing laundry.
One huge flaw in trying to make the argument that all stories fall into one of these four categories is, of course, that different parts of different books fall into different areas. A book can meander through all four squares. And, it's hard to say what an "ordinary" character or an "average" life is. I've put 1984 in the category of being about an ordinary man in exceptional events, but one could argue that, from the perspective of the novel, the events were mundane, every day life, and that he was exceptional enough to try to rebel and change his world.
So, perhaps the grid is utter bullshit. But, I took ten minutes to draw it, and half an hour to write to this essat, so it would be a shame not to post it now:
Feel free to dispute! Or, if you can think of novels that fit in the exceptional characters/ordinary events box, let me know.