As a fiction writer, your plot is the fuel that drives the entire story. You can view it as the foundation of your complete book, novella, or short story.
The plot is what entertains and leaves the reader satisfied and wanting more from you.
There are many functions of the plots and many tasks it must accomplish. It becomes stitching that holds all the components of your story together into one cohesive unit.
The plot is the main path that must be traveled, regardless of the number of clever sidebars and subplots you have woven into your story. This is because the plot is the only route that reaches your story’s climax.
The good news is that there are story plots that have been used millions of times to entertain others successfully. We have witnessed them in many forms – not just in the written story. We have seen that used over and over again in cinema, theatre, and even music.
The reason they are used so much is that when used properly, they work. And they work very well. They are plots that satisfied readers, viewers, and listeners ever since stories were first created.
Challenges of Using these Plots
If you have some experience with writing fiction, then you’re already asking, “How do I write stories using these plots that aren’t obvious from the start?”
Now, this is the real key to using these proven plots. You must learn to inject your own flavor into them, and you must do this without losing your reader. A little bit of predictability is okay, but having the right amount can be tricky.
Learning the finesse of how to pull this off comes with experience. And this experience doesn’t have to be your own. If you read the works of other great authors who use them – and there are many – you can pick up your own ideas.
Also, you can watch movies and see how these basic plots have been cleverly used. It really is amazing how often professional writers use them.
The Seven Basic Plots
As mentioned earlier, these seven basic plots have been used over the ages. They can be seen in various fairy tales, myths, plays, and films.
The classic battle between good and evil
Perhaps the most traditional story of them all is the stirring triumph over an obstacle or opponent. This plot is prevalent in mythology, as observed in the stories of Hercules and Beowulf. We also see them in James Bond films or stories about evil creatures like Jaws or Terminator. Today, writers often use internal monsters like addiction, alcoholism, or mental health.
The standard quest
This nothing quite like an adventure story. This where our hero sets off on some specific goal. One prime example of this is when Jason sought the Golden Fleece. Or how about the Knights of the Round Table who searched for the Holy Grail, or Indiana Jones searching for archaeological treasures?
The quest doesn’t haven’t be a physical or a real object. It can be something spiritual or mystical – like seeking enlightenment. It could also be a search for information or even a person – such as the classic detective story.
Voyage and return or coming of age
In this classic story plot, our hero embarks on a journey and returns with an improvement of some sort. Perhaps he or she has learned martial art, or became skilled at using a weapon. Or maybe the improvement is internal, and they returned as wiser or more spiritual.
Lots of stories that describe being on the road follow this plot. We witness how the main character is growing from the journey. The Catcher in the Rye is an example of this plot at work.
Rags to riches
Perhaps Cinderella is the best example of this – as we tend to use “Cinderella story” as a figure of speech in our society. It typically starts with a main character that is humble and poor.
Over time, we watch them grow and evolve, usually through the help of others. Finally, we see them achieve great prosperity in the end. Sometimes, we see our hero achieve inner riches as well.
The classic romance
The romance plot has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Romances generally have two potential lovers that we viewers and readers desire to be together.
We watch them battle through countless misunderstandings and unfortunate circumstances – some of which are caused by a third person. But they overcome one huge obstacle in the end and finally get together – and we love it.
Death and rebirth or redemption
This plot has been used in many religions throughout the world. We’ve seen it used in ancient Egypt as well as in Christianity. We witness the death of a God, usually because of betrayal and treachery, and then we witness their resurrection. Others are often redeemed by this event.
Modern fiction has used this plot in various ways. For instance, death and rebirth are not necessarily physical. In A. J. Cronin’s book, The Citadel, the main character is a successful doctor that is rich and arrogant. After operating on his friend’s child, the child dies, and he goes through a personal crisis. He goes through reformation and becomes a doctor that serves the very poor without receiving any material reward.
Tragedies are inversions of all the previous plots. A tragedy is about the main character who cannot overcome a monster, never goes on a quest, goes from riches to rags, never takes a redemptive journey, loses his lover, and dies with no hope of a resurrection.
In a classic tragedy, the hero fails due to some fatal flaw. He or she has something in his personality that keeps him from ever accomplishing what he could have. These often become cautionary tales.
Anytime you are struggling to find a structure for your next story, you can always use one of these seven classic plots. They have proven to work and entertain audiences from every walk of life. In fact, they make delightful stories when applying them to a modern context.