Saturday, June 7, 2014


These basic plots are from the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, but I thought it would be useful to share them with you all. Many writers believe that there are only so many “basic plots” that make up a story, 20 of them to be exact, and that it all depends on how you develop these plots. This is the same idea that there are only so many story arcs, and that all of our stories fit into a certain category. This is not to say you can’t create something that is uniquely yours, because you can mess with these elements, but when cut something down to the bare bones—nothing is really original. These recognizable story forms work and that’s why they’re used over and over again. Here are the 20 basic plots—

1. QUEST – the protagonist is searching for something (person, place, thing, or idea) and is on a journey to find it.

2. ADVENTURE – the protagonist searches for their fortune, but has to leave home to do it.

3. PURSUIT - hide-and-seek plot, one group or person chasing another.

4. RESCUE - the protagonist is searching for someone or something that needs to be saved—this usually involves protagonist, victim, and antagonist.

5. ESCAPE – the protagonist wants to escape some sort of situation, on a quest to get away.

6. REVENGE - retaliation against someone else for wrong-doings.

7. THE RIDDLE - the protagonist’s search to find the hidden meaning of something.

8. RIVALRY - the protagonist is competing for same object or goal as another person.

9. UNDERDOG – the protagonist has a great disadvantage and faces overwhelming odds while trying to reach his or her goals.

10. TEMPTATION – the protagonist is tempted into doing something that is unwise, wrong or immoral.

11. METAMORPHOSIS - the physical characteristics of the protagonist actually changes from one form to another.

12. TRANSFORMATION - the protagonist journeys through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

13. MATURATION - the protagonist faces a problem that causes them to learn from it and mature into adulthood.

14. LOVE - the protagonist overcomes the obstacles that prevent him or her from engaging in true love.

15. FORBIDDEN LOVE – the protagonist overcomes obstacles that prevent him or her from true love, but sometimes find the outcome too high a price to live with.

16. SACRIFICE - the protagonist is motivated by a higher purpose such as love, honor, and charity or for the sake of humanity.

17. DISCOVERY - the protagonist, having to overcome a life-changing event, discovers a deeper meaning of life that changes their outlook.

18. WRETCHED EXCESS - the protagonist pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences.

19. ASCENSION – this rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise of the protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

20. DESCENSION – In the opposite to ascension, a person of initially high standing descends to the gutter and moral turpitude, perhaps sympathetically as they are unable to handle stress and perhaps just giving in to baser vices.


Belzecue said...

"DECISION – this riches-to-rags plot deals with the fall of the protagonist..."

I think you mean 'declension'.

Billy Marshall Stoneking said...

DESCENSION - thanx for pointing out the typo

Belzecue said...

Thanks, Billy. Yes, 'descension' not my suggestion of 'declension'. This list by Ronald B. Tobias, 20 Master Plots and how to build them, 1993. A very handy list to ensure your protag has strong goals and stakes.

Billy Marshall Stoneking said...

I've found this sort of thing to be useful AFTER you're written a first draft. I've always been weary of promoting plot types as a starting point for writers as it all too often leads to formula writing, which can still be okay as long as the formula doesn't show. Seamless drama that transcends recipe has always been what I love most in the screenplays I've loved.