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Posts Tagged ‘Basic Plots’

I have long been intrigued by the concept of having a certain number of basic plots. Over time I found What are the seven basic literary plots? and Writer’s “Cheat Sheets” by Michele Albert. I’ve combined material from both of those as primary sources and now continue to add more. Hopefully, it will aid you in your ventures.

Apparently, everyone has a different way of establishing how many basic plots there are. Here are some of the more popular attempts.

69. Attributed to Rudyard Kipling by Ronald Tobias. There is, alas, no specific list that I am aware of.

58. From Patricia Ryan’s “Pat’s Premises: Popular Plots, Conflicts and Elements in Romance Novels,” Romance Writers’ Report, 17(4), April 1997 issue. (Note that these are strictly romance plots.)

  • Enforced Intimacy (8)
    • Marriage of Convenience
    • Hero as Protector
    • Arranged or Forced Marriage
    • Pretend Marriage or Relationship
    • Stranded Together on an Island
    • Snowbound
    • Matchmaker Contrives to Throw Lovers Together
    • Must Share Office, Home, or other Space
  • Love Conquers All (2)
    • The Healing Power of Love
    • Redemption Through Love
  • One Lover Rehabilitates or Cures the Other (6)
    • Amnesia
    • Physical Disabilities
    • Emotional Problems
    • Disfigurement
    • Mental Illness
    • Alcoholism
  • Emotional Baggage or Internal Forces Keep Lovers Apart (12)
    • Inability to Trust, especially Opposite Sex
    • Fear of Commitment
    • Emotional Detachment
    • Some Past Incident has left Emotional Scars
    • Lover Blames Other for Some Hurt to Self or Loved One
    • Lover Harbors a Secret that Threatens Love
    • Lover must find Self or Solve Problem before Committing
    • One Lover has Lied to Other about Something Important
    • Lover can’t Forgive Other for Some Flaw
    • Fear of Abandonment
    • Sense of Unworthiness
    • Feeling that One doesn’t Belong or Fit
  • The Lovers’ Differences Keep Them Apart (8)
    • Lovers from Different Social, Religious, or Ethnic Worlds
    • A Difference of Opinion on Critical Matter
    • Bad Boy, Good Girl or Vice Versa
    • Lovers have Opposing Loyalties
    • Lovers are Business Competitors
    • Lovers’ Personalities are too Different
    • A Large Age Difference
    • Unrequited Love
  • The Lovers’ Similarities Keep Them Apart (2)
    • Lovers engage in a Battle of Wills
    • Lovers Share Goal, but Only One Can Achieve It
  • Babies and Children (7)
    • Secret Baby
    • Arranged Pregnancy
    • Accidental Pregnancy
    • Reunited with Child given up for Adoption
    • Child Plays Matchmaker or otherwise Brings Lovers Together
    • Child Lost or Threatened
    • Heroine Plays Nanny
  • Comedy of Errors (5)
    • Heroine Pretends to be Male
    • Mistaken Identity
    • Misunderstandings
    • Masquerade
    • Twins
  • Evolving Relationships (3)
    • Platonic Friends Fall in Love
    • Ex-Sweethearts are Reunited
    • Divorced Spouses Rediscover their Love
  • Mythic or Fairy Tale Elements (5)
    • Kidnapping
    • Taming of the Savage Male
    • Transformation
    • Rags to Riches
    • Awakening, Emotional Rebirth

36. From The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti.

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Crime Pursued by Vengence
  4. Vengence taken for Kindred upon Kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring Enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of Kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
  15. Murderous Adultry
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal Imprudence
  18. Involuntary Crimes of Love
  19. Slaying of Kinsman Unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrificing for an Ideal
  21. Self-sacrificing for Kindred
  22. All Sacrificed for Passion
  23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
  24. Rivalry of Superior & Inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of Love
  27. Discovery of Dishonor of Beloved
  28. Obstacles to Love
  29. An Enemy Loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with (a) God
  32. Mistaken Jealousy
  33. Erroneous Judgement
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of Lost One
  36. Murder of Loved One

20. From 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias. (Note that Tobias doesn’t claim these are the only basic plots – just the more common and effective ones.)

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Existence
  19. Ascension
  20. Descension

8. Denis Johnston’s Eight Plots as reported in The Guardian newspaper,  September 9, 1991. Reposted from: Archetypal Stories

  • Cinderella: Unrecognised virtue at last recognised
  • Achilles: The Fatal Flaw
  • Faust: The Debt that Must be Paid
  • Tristan: that standard triangular plot of two women and one man, or two men and one woman
  • Circe: The Spider and the Fly
  • Romeo and Juliet: Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy either finds or does not find Girl: it doesn’t matter which
  • Orpheus: The Gift taken Away
  • The Hero Who Cannot Be Kept Down

7. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker from a Book Review by tobedwithatrollope

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

7. The “Man versus …” list. The Wikipedia entry Conflict (narrative) explains these in detail.

  • Man versus Himself
  • Man versus Society
  • Man versus Man
  • Man versus Nature
  • Man versus Fate
  • Man versus God, gods, or the Supernatural
  • Man versus Machine

4. From a quote by J. Richard Sneed, Life: Journey, Battle, Pilgrimage, or Race.

  • Journey
  • Battle
  • Pilgrimage
  • Race

3. From William R. Kane on Decmeber 1st, 1916 as published in the foreword to the 1917 English translation of The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti.

  • A decision to be made
  • A change to be suffered
  • An obstacle to be overcome

3. From Cheryl Klein’s talk, A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter.

  • Conflict
  • Mystery
  • A Lack

3. From Basic Patterns of Plot by William Foster-Harris.

  • Happy Ending
  • Unhappy Ending
  • Literary

3. Motives of Story from ‘Discussing Sci-Fi Storytelling & World Building with Writer Jon Spaihts’ on FirstShowing.net.

  • having something that you hope for
  • having something that you fear
  • having a burning question that you need answered

2. From 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias in which the author states that there are really only two basic plots.

  • Plots of the Body
  • Plots of the Mind

1. From Gustav Freytag. Commonly known as Freytag’s Triangle.

  • Exposition/Setup
  • Rising Action/Complication
  • Climax/Crisis/Reversal
  • Falling Action/Unraveling
  • Dénouement

1. From Cheryl Klein’s A Character-Based View of Plot.

  1. The book establishes a complex character – someone with:
    • A flaw of which he or she may not be aware
    • Something to gain or lose
    • Or both.
  2. The world of the book presents that character with a situation:
    • One that will evoke the flaw – again, possibly unbeknownst to the character
    • Or in which the thing that can be gained or lost will be gained or lost
    • Or both.
  3. And then it forces that character to make a choice or take some sort of action
    • John Gardner: “Real suspense comes from moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damn thing after another.”
  4. In the new situation engendered by the results of #3, the plot repeats steps 2 and 3, until
  5. The flaw in the character is faced and dealt with or
    • The thing to be lost or won is lost or won
    • Or both.
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