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Different Types Of Plot In Fiction, by Kate Forsyth

I’m sure you’ve all heard people say that there are only so many possible plots in the world. Some say there’s only three. Some say there’s only seven. For my own amusement and edification, I’ve collected them. Now I share them with you:

Only One Plot:

It is said that there is really only one plot – the resolution of a problem.

This rests on the basic plot structure described in the following, canonical sequence of events: Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Denouement

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Two Plots:

The novelist John Gardner used to say “There are only two stories: A man goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town.”

Three Plots:  

In The Basic Patterns of Plot, William Foster-Harris, a professor at the University of Oklahoma contends that there are three basic patterns of plot:

  1. Type A: happy ending
  1. Type B: unhappy ending
  1. Type C: ambiguous or inconclusive ending

Seven Plots:

In his book, The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker outlined a theory that there are seven key plots, which may be used in combination with others. This book is one of my own personal favourites, and I recommend it highly. In short, they are:

1) Overcoming the Monster – tale of conflict typically recounts the hero’s ordeals, an escape from death, and ends with a community or the world itself saved from evil.

2) Rags to Riches – Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, David Copperfield, and other stories that tell of humble, downtrodden characters who manage to overcome all obstacles to rise in the world.

3) The Quest – a hero travels on a quest to save his world and secure some kind of priceless treasure.

4) Voyage and Return – The protagonist leaves normal experience to enter an alien world, returning after what often amounts to a thrilling escape. The Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe, and Alice in Wonderland are examples of this plot.

5) Comedy – confusion reigns until at last the hero and heroine are united in love.

6) Tragedy – the anti-hero spirals down deeper into darkness and despair, with all ending grimly

7) Rebirth – any story that pivots on the symbolic or actual death and rebirth of a character. Examples include Snow White, and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov.

20 Plots:

The following come from 20 Master Plots by Ronald B Tobias:

  1. Quest
  1. Adventure
  1. Pursuit
  1. Rescue
  1. Escape
  1. Revenge
  1. The Riddle
  1. Rivalry
  1. Underdog
  1. Temptation
  1. Metamorphosis
  1. Transformation
  1. Maturation
  1. Love
  1. Forbidden Love
  1. Sacrifice
  1. Discovery
  1. Wretched Excess
  1. Ascension
  1. Descension.

36 Plots:  

Finally, we have Georges Polti who wrote a book called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (translated by Lucille Ray). Although I find the following of interest, I think it’s a little too complicated and hard to remember.

Supplication – Persecutor, Suppliant, a Power in Authority

Deliverance – Unfortunates, Threatener, Rescuer

Revenge – Avenger, Criminal

Vengeance by Family upon Family – Avenging Kinsman, Guilty Kinsman, Relative

Pursuit – Fugitive from Punishment, Pursuer

Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune – Unfortunates, Master or Unlucky Person

Disaster – Vanquished Power, Victorious Power or Messenger

Revolt – Tyrant, Conspirator(s)

Daring Enterprise – Bold Leader, Goal, Adversary

Abduction – Abductor, Abducted, Guardian

Enigma – Interrogator, Seeker, Problem

Obtaining – Two or more Opposing Parties, Object, maybe an Arbitrator

Familial Hatred – Two Family Members who hate each other

Familial Rivalry – Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kinsman, Object

Murderous Adultery – Two Adulterers, the Betrayed

Madness – Madman, Victim

Fatal Imprudence – Imprudent person, Victim or lost object

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Lover, Beloved, Revealer

Kinsman Kills Unrecognised Kinsman – Killer, Unrecognised Victim, Revealer

Self Sacrifice for an Ideal – Hero, Ideal, Person or Thing Sacrificed

Self Sacrifice for Kindred – Hero, Kinsman, Person or Thing Sacrificed

All Sacrificed for Passion – Lover, Object of Passion, Person or Thing Sacrificed

Sacrifice of Loved Ones – Hero, Beloved Victim, Need for Sacrifice

Rivalry Between Superior and Inferior – Superior, Inferior, Object

Adultery – Deceived Spouse, Two Adulterers

Crimes of Love – Lover, Beloved, theme of Dissolution

Discovery of Dishonour of a Loved One – Discoverer, Guilty One

Obstacles to Love – Two Lovers, Obstacle

An Enemy Loved – Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater

Ambition – An Ambitious Person, Coveted Thing, Adversary

Conflict with a God – Mortal, Immortal

Mistaken Jealousy – Jealous One, Object of Jealousy, Supposed Accomplice, Author of Mistake

Faulty Judgement – Mistaken One, Victim of Mistake, Author of Mistake, Guilty Person

Remorse – Culprit, Victim, Interrogator

Recovery of a Lost One – Seeker, One Found

Loss of Loved Ones – Kinsman Slain, Kinsman Witness, Executioner

***

Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

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Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Across the UniverseIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for compiling that list Kate. They all seem to be right, but are just looking from different angles and/or depths.

    July 16, 2014
  2. Reblogged this on Lost Girl and commented:
    Interesting read for fiction writers out there. Especially those stuck on plot.

    January 19, 2015

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