Plot Types In Stories

Adventure as one of the plot types in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Adventure as one of the plot types in Raiders of the Lost Ark

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HOW many plot types are there in stories? Opinions differ, but here are twelve suggestions to get you going:

A sprinkling of Plot types

1. The Adventure: The Hero travels to exotic lands and experiences extraordinary events—typically in search of some sort of treasure, but ends up gaining true love instead/as well: Raiders of the Lost Arc.

2. The Rescue: The protagonist has to rescue the victim from the antagonist by following her to the ends of the earth if needs be: Taken.

3. The Redemption: The hero has to free himself from the internal and external consequences of a past action through atonement. This usually involves gaining insight about his past through a series of increasingly challenging actions: The Nostalgia of a Time Travel, Atonement.

4. The Quest: The protagonist goes on a journey to acquire or protect something of great value. The story usually describes the character’s vicissitudes and ultimate growth during this journey: Lord of the Rings.

5. The Temptation: This type of plot explores the concept of morality and exposes the effect of giving in to temptation. It usually involves the Hero resisting temptation, giving in to temptation, suffering the consequences of temptation, and finally achieving some sort of insight, growth and redemption through a sacrificial act: Dangerous Liaisons.

6. The Revenge/Payback: The protagonist assumes the moral high ground by invoking an-eye-for-an-eye vengeance for a great wrong perpetrated by the antagonist: Unforgiven, The Count of Monte Christo.

7. The Rival: The Hero and antagonist are locked in together in a struggle to achieve dominance over a situation or person: Face Off.

8. The Escape: The protagonist, usually innocent of the crime or accusation, is imprisoned against his will. The plot charts the protagonist’s journey from capture, thwarted attempts to escape, and the final get-away: Escape Plan, The Shawshank Redemption.

9. The Underdog: Here the protagonist is seriously outgunned in his life-and-death struggle with the antagonist. The antagonist need not be a person. It can be a force of nature which threatens the life of the protagonist. Deep Impact, Twister.

10. The Heist: This involves the identification and setting-up of a target to rob, the execution, the unravelling, and the resolution: The Great Train Robbery, Ocean’s Eleven.

11. The Riddle: This story type sets up a difficult question, mystery, or puzzle as the driving force behind the story. It invites us to find the solution before the Hero does. Solving the puzzle requires that the protagonist use his wits and ingenuity to overcome physical as well as mental obstacles, involving self-sacrifice and the threat of death: Sherlock Holmes.

12. The Chase: In this type of plot the pursuit drives the events and character relationships. For tension to be maintained the chaser(s) must have a reasonable chance of catching the chased: World War Z, The Fugitive.

What kind of plot type drives your story? Is it a mix of several, perhaps? Determining your plot type(s) will help guide the development of your characters and action.

Summary

Plot types help you write your story by setting up certain requirements and expectations. This article suggests twelve such types.

5 thoughts on “Plot Types In Stories

  1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Stephen, the examples might use male protagonists because of the plethora of famous films where there protagonist is male. Nothing, however, precludes the formula having female protagonists.

    Reply
    1. Gerhard Pistorius

      Good post. I don’t like the idea of labeling things and putting them into little genre boxes. However the context described in this list serves as a starting point for any story. It is perhaps the most profound reason way we are witnessing a golden age of television. To fill x amount of episodes per season writers consistently need to make use of different plot prototypes to make each individual episode unique enough to keep viewers interested and guarantee a second , third and fourth season . The most obvious example would be something like the Simpsons. 30 years and 600 episodes later and they are still going. It’s easier with television then it is with films to use different plot prototypes : As seen with the dying horse that is the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise : Pirates 5 was written as a drama – Johnny Depp rewrites it as a comedy – awful movie !

      In short : If you are writing for film choose a plot prototype and stick to it. If you are writing for television don’t be afraid to mix it up.

      Reply
  2. Stephen Marcus Finn

    Thanks, Stavros – good to see and to relate various films to these categories. A pity, however, that in each of them, the protagonist is male: a rather sexist categorisation and explanation.

    Reply
    1. Gerhard Pistorius

      Sexist categorization – are you kidding me ?
      I have read this post and as far as I can see there is no gender specification regarding the protagonist.
      You can take anyone of these plot prototypes and give a female character the top billing. For example:

      1. The Adventure
      Lara Croft. Basically a female Indiana Jones with a British accent. She is essentially the female Bond we all never knew we wanted.

      2. The Rescue
      The House Bunny : the female protagonist helps a all female cast of characters save their sorority.

      3. The Rival : Wonder woman. The female protagonist trained by female warriors from childhood to fight against a rival who is responsible for the evil of man.

      4. The Revenge/Payback: Kill Bill volume 1& 2. The title really says it all.

      5. The Underdog. Million Dollar Baby. Watch it. it’s a dozy . ( Also won best picture)

      6. The Redemption. The color Purple. This one will blow your mind.

      Long story short : The gender of your protagonist is not and should not play a significant role unless it serves the story in any significant way.

      Reply

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