Templates are underlying structures of kinds of invented story, whatever genre or media they may be created in.
Templates are not formulas, so wipe “formula fiction” right out of your frontal lobes. Fiction formulas are laid down by editors, often rather arbitrarily, and may apply only to one publisher, not even the whole industry.
Templates are universal and human. They arise from the audience, and date back before writing, though we can only see them as far back as they are written down, whether the myths of Ishtar harrowing Hell or Isis seeking a dead mate’s resurrection, or the heroic quest of Gilgamesh for eternal life, or the wanderings of Odysseus, or the wars of the Rg Veda.
On the other hand, at least one template was founded as recently as the 1950s. Collecting and sorting them has been a hobby of mine for some years, based in a chance remark of a workshopper and my broad basis in myth, epic, folk tale, and fairy tales.
Not every story you write will fit a template, but most will because you are as human as anyone else, and as much imbedded in the culture of fiction. If your story is close to a template, it will be stronger if you move either onto the template, fulfilling its satisfactions, or move well away so you don’t look like you just missed the boat.
However, you may find that outside of litfi you can’t avoid templates. Many genres are built on, not just a single template, but a single sub-template, like mysteries are basically the Mystery Template.
Templates of Fiction
These are the Templates.
These are the Themes or Motifs. These are the Categories.
These are Mechanisms. These are Settings.
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