There are only so many plots

31 Aug

Here’s the 7 plot version:

StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000002459 It may be worth noting that Christopher Booker in his “Seven Basic
Plots — why we tell stories” has a different take — and it took him
35 years to draw his conclusions, having started in 1969!!

The man vs xxxx plots above would all be summarised as “overcoming the monster”.

He gives us, (fogive me for desperately oversimplifying his magnus opus):

1. Overcoming the monster — defeating some force which threatens…
e.g. most Hollywood movies; Star Wars, James Bond.

2. The Quest — typically a group setoff in search of something and
(usually) find it. e.g. Watership Down, Pilgrim’s Progress.

3. Journey and Return — the hero journeys away from home to somewhere
different and finally comes back having experienced something and
maybe changed for the better. e.g. Wizard of Oz, Gullivers Travels.

4. Comedy – not neccesarily a funny plot. Some kind of
misunderstanding or ignorance is created that keeps parties apart
which is resolved towards the end bringing them back together. e.g.
Bridget Jones Diary, War and Peace.

5. Tragedy – Someone is tempted in some way, vanity, greed etc and
becomes increasingly desperate or trapped by their actions until at a
climax they usually die. Unless it’s a Hollywood movie, when they
escape to a happy ending. e.g. Devils’ Advocate, Hamlet.

6. Rebirth – hero is captured or oppressed and seems to be in a state
of living death until it seems all is lost when miraculously they are
freed. e.g. Snow White.

7. Rags to Riches – self explanatory really. e.g. Cinderella &
derivatives (all 27,000 of them)!!!

Each of these plots goes through 4 or 5 main phases which are
universally recognisable and re-used. Some stories choose to jump in
at phase 3 or leave early and often leave us feeling unsatisfied.

What is much more interesting is Why are there only seven basic plots;
how are they important. For this you need to read his book, but the
answer is connected strongly to the psychology of Jung, the Ego and
the Self.


The expanded version of number 1:

StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000000550
1 – [wo]man vs. nature

2 – [wo]man vs. man

3 – [wo]man vs. the environment

4 – [wo]man vs. machines/technology

5 – [wo]man vs. the supernatural

6 – [wo]man vs. self

7 – [wo]man vs. god/religion


The 20 plot variation

StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000004572

#1 QUEST – the plot involves the Protagonist’s search for a person,  place or thing, tangible or intangible (but must be quantifiable, so think of  this as a noun; i.e., immortality).

#2 ADVENTURE – this plot involves  the Protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never  found at home, the Protagonist goes to search for it somewhere over the  rainbow.

#3 PURSUIT – this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one  person chasing another.

#4 RESCUE – this plot involves the Protagonist  searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main  characters – the Protagonist, the Victim & the Antagonist.

#5  ESCAPE – plot involves a Protagonist confined against their will who wants to  escape (does not include some one trying to escape their personal demons).

#6 REVENGE – retaliation by Protagonist or Antagonist against the  other for real or imagined injury.

#7 THE RIDDLE – plot involves the  Protagonist’s search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in  question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.

#8 RIVALRY –  plot involves Protagonist competing for same object or goal as another person  (their rival).

#9 UNDERDOG – plot involves a Protagonist competing for  an object or goal that is at a great disadvantage and is faced with  overwhelming odds.

#10 TEMPTATION – plot involves a Protagonist that  for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is  unwise, wrong or immoral.

#11 METAMORPHOSIS – this plot involves the  physical characteristics of the Protagonist actually changing from one form to  another (reflecting their inner psychological identity).

#12  TRANSFORMATION – plot involves the process of change in the Protagonist as  they journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant  character state to another.

#13 MATURATION – plot involves the  Protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with  it, emerging into a state of adulthood (going from innocence to experience).

#14 LOVE – plot involves the Protagonist overcoming the obstacles to  love that keeps them from consummating (engaging in) true love.

#15  FORBIDDEN LOVE – plot involves Protagonist(s) overcoming obstacles created by  social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship (and sometimes  finding it at too high a price to live with).

#16 SACRIFICE – plot  involves the Protagonist taking action(s) that is motivated by a higher  purpose (concept) such as love, honor, charity or for the sake of humanity.

#17 DISCOVERY – plot that is the most character-centered of all,  involves the Protagonist having to overcome an upheavel(s) in their life, and  thereby discovering something important (and buried) within them a better  understanding of life (i.e., better appreciation of their life, a clearer  purpose in their life, etc.)

#18 WRETCHED EXCESS – plot involves a  Protagonist who, either by choice or by accident, pushes the limits of  acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences  (generally deals with the psychological decline of the character).

#19  ASCENSION – rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of Protagonist  due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

#20  DECISION – riches-to-rags plot deals with the fall (destruction) of  Protagonist due to dominating character trait that eventually destroys their  success.

(Note: Sometimes #19 & #20 are combined into  rags-to-riches-to-rags (or vice versa) of a Protagonist who does (or doesn’t)  learn to deal with their dominating character trait.)

For an in-depth look at these plots, read the excellent “20 Master Plots and  How To Build Them” by Ronald B. Tobias available through the TSA Writers Store.  

And finally a link to the 36 plots:




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: