All writers are told, at some point, that every story has been written. Whether it’s from a well meaning colleague or a trusted friend, it can leave you unmotivated and questioning why you’re writing in the first place.
George Booker filtered down the various stories into 7 plots, Blake Snyder filtered down to 10 plots, Ronald Tobias filtered down 20 plots and Georges Polti filtered down to 36 plots. If you’re a new writer searching for a plot, or you’re just searching for a new plot, these basic plots should help.
While I can’t give as good an explanation as the writers themselves, I can offer a brief description and you can find out more information online. I’ll also provide examples, so you can look at that example and see how they use that particular plot.
George Booker’s 7 Plots
- Overcoming the Monster – can be a literal monster or a metaphorical monster; a literal monster is usually a made up creature, such as a Yeti or Frankenstein; a metaphorical monster is usually mental health based, such as the protagonist in Fight Club.
- Rags to Riches – the most obvious example I can give is Cinderella, where a female was born into poverty and forced to work for her stepmother but marries a handsome prince and becomes rich.
- The Quest – typically going on a long, strenuous journey to accomplish an important goal, such as Frodo in Lord of the Rings in which he has to destroy a ring to rid the world of evil.
- Voyage and Return – the protagonist travels somewhere to gain something, like gold, and returns richer, such as Pocahontas, where the travellers discover gold and return rich from their findings.
- Comedy – consistently funny throughout and aimed to be light hearted and fun, but dependent on what type of humour; The Mask is good for over the top, slapstick comedy, whereas The Office (UK) aims to be more amusing than laugh out loud funny.
- Tragedy – the story revolves around a protagonist’s life going terribly and usually ends with a death, if not several; Shakespeare has several tragedies, such as MacBeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.
- Rebirth – a protagonist usually undergoes a life-altering experience and is reborn as a better person, such as Bucky from the MCU, or the protagonist literally dies but comes back to life, such as Supernatural where the two main protagonists are constantly dying and coming back to life again.
Blake Snyder’s 10 Plots
- Monster in the House – depending on the definition of monster, it could either be a literal monster that kills people in a house, such as Supernatural, or it could be creepy dolls or ghosts or distorted human beings, such as Krampus.
- Out of the Bottle (wishes and curses) – either a protagonist seeks out someone to grant them a wish and it’s a curse instead, such as Supernatural, a protagonist acts selfishly and is therefore cursed, such as Beauty and the Beast, or the protagonist accidentally stumbles upon someone who’ll grant them wishes, such as Aladdin.
- Whodunit – the classic murder mystery stories where a detective, such as Hercule Poirot, or else a stranger who has no connection with the law, such as Sherlock Holmes, must find out who killed the dead character through a series of clues.
- Golden Fleece (journey; quest) – like the name suggests, a character must undergo a journey/quest to accomplish a goal, such as finding the Golden Fleece.
- Rites of Passage – as the title sounds, it’s a story where the protagonist goes through a rite of passage, such as puberty or marriage; an example would be Harry Potter who goes through puberty while trying to stop evil.
- Institutionalised – this one is a guess; there’s a regime/society in place but the people revolt against it and win, such as The Hunger Games where Katniss rebels and there are two winners instead of one.
- Buddy Love – a story revolved around friendship; it could mean going on an adventure together, such as Paper Towns, or learning the importance of friendship, such as Mean Girls.
- Superhero – a human that has superhuman abilities, which doesn’t mean it has to be the typical comic book superhero, such as All My Friends Are Superheroes; however, the examples that come to mind are definitely the comic book heroes I know and love, such as the MCU or the DCTV-verse.
- Dude with a Problem – the protagonist has a problem and spends the whole story trying to solve the problem, such as The Good Place, where they seem to have constant problems they must overcome.
- The Fool Triumphant (underdog) – the superhero genre has been very good at showing a character who has all the odds stacked against them only for them to come out on top, such as Spiderman: Homecoming.
Ronald Tobias’ 20 Plots
- Quest – typically going on a long, strenuous journey to accomplish an important goal, such as Frodo in Lord of the Rings in which he has to destroy a ring to rid the world of evil.
- Adventure – an adventure is different from a quest in that an adventure doesn’t necessarily have a goal they must accomplish and can instead just be friends partaking in an event, such as Pitch Perfect.
- Pursuit – usually associated with crime stories where the police pursue a criminal, such as The Bill, or the protagonist is pursuing the antagonist for a specific reason (or reasons), such as A Ticket To The Boneyard.
- Rescue – usually involving someone being kidnapped, such as Taken where one of the protagonists’ family members is kidnapped and the protagonist must rescue them.
- Escape – usually involving someone being kidnapped or trapped and they need to escape, such as The Maze Runner in which a group of teens must escape the maze.
- Revenge – usually when someone close to the protagonist has died and they want revenge on the antagonist, such as The Punisher.
- The Riddle – a character is given a riddle to solve and potentially must do so within a set amount of time; it could also have to do with prophecies, such as Kung Fu Panda 2, since they often need to be deciphered to make sense of them.
- Rivalry – the protagonist either has a rival they have always competed against or they get a rival they will compete against for the whole story, such as Bride Wars.
- Underdog – the superhero genre has been very good at showing a character who has all the odds stacked against them only for them to come out on top, such as Spiderman: Homecoming.
- Temptation – the protagonist is tempted by something that will change their lives, which sometimes involves sex, other times involves giving the protagonist what they want, such as in Star Wars when Anakin is tempted and swayed by the dark side.
- Metamorphosis – see transformation below
- Transformation – the protagonist undergoes a change that transforms them as a person, such as Bucky or Loki from the MCU.
- Maturation – the protagonist matures as the story progresses, such as Harry Potter who matures throughout the series as he goes through puberty.
- Love – two characters fall in love gradually over the course of the story, such as To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, or it could show different types of love like platonic love between friends and/or family.
- Forbidden Love – the most obvious example is always Romeo and Juliet, since their families are at war and hate one another, but they both met and fell in love.
- Sacrifice – the protagonist has to sacrifice something that leads to a certain result, such as in Supernatural with the Winchesters sacrificing themselves all the time to prevent an apocalypse from happening.
- Discovery – a protagonist discovers a life-altering secret or truth that changes their life, such as Mamma Mia where Mia finds out who her potential dad could be.
- Wretched Excess – I’ll be honest, I have no idea what this one is, so read Tobias’ book for further information.
- Ascension – the protagonist changes position in their life from ordinary person to extraordinary, such as in Mean Girls where Cady Heron goes from new girl to popular girl.
- Descension – the protagonist loses their high position in life and goes from extraordinary person to ordinary person, such as Thor where he goes from next in line to the throne to being exiled to Earth until he learns to be humble.
Georges Polti’s 36 Plots
I’ll be honest, most of Georges Polti’s plots are very specific since he analysed classic Greek texts and French texts. I’d highly recommend reading his book as he’ll probably give detailed explanations behind each of the 36 plots he mentions. Or you could check out the brief description given on Wikipedia.
Use these plots as you see fit and follow the basic premise to lay the foundations for your story. Then comes the rest of the story, which will take a while but it’ll be worth it in the end… hopefully.
Let me know if any of these descriptions are wrong and I’ll edit them as necessary.
Which plots do you like best? Which plots do you use most?