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whats the plot - the real story?

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The "Basic" Plots in Literature

Example Questions That Can Be Answered Using This FAQ

I’ve heard there are only 7 (or 5, 20, 36…) basic plots (or themes) in all of literature. What are they?

People often say that there are only a certain number of basic plots in all of literature, and that any story is really just a variation on these plots. Depending on how detailed they want to make a "basic" plot, different writers have offered a variety of solutions. Here are some of the ones we’ve found:

1 Plot | 3 Plots | 7 Plots | 20 Plots | 36 Plots
1 Plot:

Attempts to find the number of basic plots in literature cannot be resolved any more tightly than to describe a single basic plot. Foster-Harris claims that all plots stem from conflict. He describes this in terms of what the main character feels: "I have an inner conflict of emotions, feelings.... What, in any case, can I do to resolve the inner problems?" (p. 30-31) This is in accord with the canonical view that the basic elements of plot revolve around a problem dealt with in sequence: "Exposition - Rising Action - Climax - Falling Action - Denouement". (Such description of plot can be found in many places, including: Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. 6th ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co, 1992.) Foster-Harris’ main argument is for 3 Plots (which are contained within this one), described below.
3 Plots:

Foster-Harris. The Basic Patterns of Plot. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959. Foster-Harris contends that there are three basic patterns of plot (p. 66):

"’Type A, happy ending’"; Foster-Harris argues that the "Type A" pattern results when the central character (which he calls the "I-nitial" character) makes a sacrifice (a decision that seems logically "wrong") for the sake of another.
"’Type B, unhappy ending’"; this pattern follows when the "I-nitial" character does what seems logically "right" and thus fails to make the needed sacrifice.
"’Type C,’ the literary plot, in which, no matter whether we start from the happy or the unhappy fork, proceeding backwards we arrive inevitably at the question, where we stop to wail." This pattern requires more explanation (Foster-Harris devotes a chapter to the literary plot.) In short, the "literary plot" is one that does not hinge upon decision, but fate; in it, the critical event takes place at the beginning of the story rather than the end. What follows from that event is inevitable, often tragedy. (This in fact coincides with the classical Greek notion of tragedy, which is that such events are fated and inexorable.)

7 Plots

7 basic plots as remembered from second grade by IPL volunteer librarian Jessamyn West:

[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion

20 Plots:

Tobias, Ronald B. 20 Master Plots. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993. (ISBN 0-89879-595-8)
This book proposes twenty basic plots:

The Riddle
Forbidden Love
Wretched Excess

36 Plots

Polti, Georges. The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. trans. Lucille Ray.

Polti claims to be trying to reconstruct the 36 plots that Goethe alleges someone named [Carlo] Gozzi came up with. (In the following list, the words in parentheses are our annotations to try to explain some of the less helpful titles.):

Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
Crime Pursued by Vengeance
Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
Daring Enterprise
The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
Enmity of Kinsmen
Rivalry of Kinsmen
Murderous Adultery
Fatal Imprudence
Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother, sister, etc.)
Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
All Sacrificed for Passion
Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
Crimes of Love
Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
Obstacles to Love
An Enemy Loved
Conflict with a God
Mistaken Jealousy
Erroneous Judgement
Recovery of a Lost One
Loss of Loved Ones.
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Plot (narrative)
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Plot is a literary term defined as the events that makes up the story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.[citation needed]

1 Aristotle on plot
2 Freytag on Plot
2.1 Exposition
2.2 Rising action
2.3 Climax
2.4 Falling action
2.5 Resolution
3 Other views
4 Plot devices
5 Plot outline
6 See also
7 Notes
8 References
9 External links

Aristotle on plot
Main article: Mythos (Aristotle)

In his Poetics, Aristotle considered plot (mythos) the most important element of drama—more important than character, for example. A plot must have, Aristotle says, a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary, or probable.

Of the utmost importance to Aristotle is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience. In tragedy, the appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.)

Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether the tragic character commits the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is about to kill someone in his family.

The worst situation [artistically] is when the personage is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. It is odious and also (through the absence of suffering) untragic; hence it is that no one is made to act thus except in some few instances, e.g. Haemon and Creon in Antigone. Next after this comes the actual perpetration of the deed meditated. A better situation than that, however, is for the deed to be done in ignorance, and the relationship discovered afterwards, since there is nothing odious in it, and the discovery will serve to astound us. But the best of all is the last; what we have in Cresphontes, for example, where Merope, on the point of slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in Iphigenia, where sister and brother are in a like position; and in Helle, where the son recognizes his mother, when on the point of giving her up to her enemy. (Poetics book 14)

Freytag on Plot
Freytag's pyramid
Main article: Dramatic structure

Gustav Freytag considered plot a narrative structure that divided a story into five parts, like the five acts of a play. These parts are: exposition (of the situation); rising action (through conflict); climax (or turning point); falling action; and resolution.

The exposition introduces all of the main characters in the story. It shows how they relate to one another, what their goals and motivations are, and the kind of person they are. The audience may have questions about any of these things, which get settled, but if they do have them they are specific and well-focused questions. Most importantly, in the exposition the audience gets to know the main character, and the main character gets to know his or her goal and what is at stake if he fails to attain his or her goal.

This phase ends, and the next begins, with the introduction of conflict.
Rising action

Rising action is the second phase in Freytag's five-phase structure. It starts with the death of the characters or a conflict.

'Conflict' in Freytag's discussion must not be confused with 'conflict' in Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's critical apparatus plots into types, e.g. man vs. society. The difference is that an entire story can be discussed according to Quiller-Couch's mode of analysis, while Freytag is talking about the second act in a five-act play, at a time when all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear (at least for the most part), and they now begin to struggle against one another.

Generally, in this phase the protagonist understands his or her goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart their initial success, and in this phase their progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase shows us how he or she overcomes these obstacles.

Thus, at the end of this phase and at the beginning of the next they are finally in a position to go up against his primary goal. this part begins after the exposition.It consists of a beginnings of a tension or complication that continues with the development of conflict between the characters.

The point of climax is the turning point of the story, where the main character makes the single big decision that defines the outcome of their story and who they are as a person. The dramatic phase that Freytag called the 'climax' is the third of the five phases, which occupies the middle of the story, and that contains the point of climax. Thus "the climax" may refer to the point of climax or to the third phase of the drama.

The beginning of this phase is marked by the protagonist finally having cleared away the preliminary barriers and being ready to engage with the adversary. Usually, entering this phase, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other. Now for the first time we see them going against one another in direct, or nearly direct, conflict.

This struggle results with neither character completely winning, nor losing, against the other. Usually, each character's plan is partially successful, and partially foiled by their adversary. What is unique about this central struggle between the two characters is that the protagonist makes a decision which shows us his moral quality, and ultimately determines his fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a bad decision, which is his miscalculation and the appearance of his tragic flaw.

The climax often contains much of the action in a story, for example, a defining battle.
Falling action

Freytag called this phase "falling action" in the sense that the loose ends are being tied up. However, it is often the time of greatest overall tension in the play, because it is the phase in which everything goes most wrong.

In this phase, the villain has the upper hand. It seems that evil will triumph. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing the goal. For Freytag, this is true both in tragedies and comedies, because both of these types of play classically show good winning over evil. The question is which side the protagonist has put himself on, and this may not be immediately clear to the audience.

In the final phase of Freytag's five phase structure, there is a final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist, where one or the other decisively wins. This phase is the story of that confrontation, of what leads up to it, of why it happens the way it happens, what it means, and what its long-term consequences are.
Other views

Besides the classical view of plot, there are other ways of looking at it.

A 1950's era writing instructor, Foster-Harris, said that plot is an emotional problem caused by two conflicting emotions being felt by the same person (the main character), and the working-out of that conflict. His system for creating popular fiction is compatible with, but distinct from, the classical understanding of plot. In particular, his focus is not on analysis but generation: not how to write criticism about existing plots, but how to create one.,[1] 1960, p. The basic elements of plot (Story) can be understood quite simply as Character, Conflict, Complication, Crisis-Climax, and Resolution. Change is an important element but it is inherent the actions proper.
Plot devices
Main article: Plot device

A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story, often used to motivate characters, create urgency or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with narrative technique, that is, by making things happen because characters take action for solid, well-motivated reasons. As an example, when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day, that can be argued to be a plot device; when an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself saves the day due to a change of heart, that is dramatic technique.

Familiar types of plot devices include the Deus ex Machina, the MacGuffin, and the Red Herring.
Plot outline

A plot outline is a prose telling of a story to be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes called a one page (one page synopsis, about 1 - 3 pages). It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis (1 - 2 paragraphs), but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. There are different ways to create these outlines and they vary in length, but are basically the same thing.

In comics, a pencil, often pluralized as pencils, refers to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development.

The pencils will be very loose (i.e., the sketch rough), the main goals being to lay out the flow of panels across a page, to ensure the story successfully builds suspense and to work out points of view, camera angles and character positions within panels. This can also be referred to as a plot outline or a layout.


Everything ever written boiled down to seven plots
Kasia Boddy reviews The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker

Kasia Boddy

12:01AM GMT 21 Nov 2004


The seven basic plots are: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth. Christopher Booker begins by establishing the endurance of these plots in works ranging from the Bible and Greek drama through 19th-century opera to the latest Hollywood films. Booker obviously felt that the force of his claims depended on a large number of examples, and many paragraphs begin, "Another instance". His claims for universality, though, would have been strengthened by reference to non-Western traditions.

At the end of chapter 11, we are told that we must move down to a "deeper level" and that these seven plots are merely different perspectives on "the same great basic drama". This begins with the hero or heroine "in some way constricted" and ends up with "a final opening out into life, with everything at last resolved". Later chapters elaborate on this by revisiting the seven plots and considering the "archetypal figures" that populate each. One of the central themes here is the relationship between the "power of the feminine" (associated with empathy and connection) and that of the masculine (power and order). Things go wrong when men (such as Wagner's Tannhäuser) stop being manly, and women (such as Austen's Emma Woodhouse) are "cut off from their inner feminine". A happy ending (for "the collective psyche" at least) requires girls to be girls and boys to be boys.

At this point, classification gives way to jeremiad. Two hundred years ago, it seems, European Romanticism ushered in the era of egocentricity and things began to fall apart. Storytellers "detached" themselves from "life itself" and instead became obsessed with sex and violence. Booker, whose last work was a history of the European Union, entitled The Great Deception, talks of "trivialisation", "disintegration", "perversion" and "violation".

Strangely, most of the examples he used to establish his plots in part 1 are drawn from this postlapsarian world. This section depends largely on biographical background and Booker notes the "arrested development" and "psychological inadequacies" of a range of artists: chapter 22 ends by dismissing more or less the whole of American culture as immature. But his history of the 20th century notes a few moments of respite from the downward trajectory – notably when Hitler and the Gulag provoked storytellers to depict "a cosmic battle between the powers of darkness and those of light". During the Second World War, Booker notes with relief, men were "again liberated to play a fully masculine role" and women "could again become feminine, courageously representing those values of heart and soul for which so much was being risked".

Otherwise it has been ego all the way, and, in the fourth and final section, Booker widens his brief to denounce, inter alia, soap operas, the metric system, feminism and the "fanatical and humourless intolerance" of political correctness. Politics, as well as storytelling, it seems, is now dominated by "mother's boys".


Book Description
Publication Date: January 9, 2006
This remarkable and monumental book at last provides a comprehensive answer to the age-old riddle of whether there are only a small number of 'basic stories' in the world. Using a wealth of examples, from ancient myths and folk tales via the plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, it shows that there are seven archetypal themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling. But this is only the prelude to an investigation into how and why we are 'programmed' to imagine stories in these ways, and how they relate to the inmost patterns of human psychology. Drawing on a vast array of examples, from Proust to detective stories, from the Marquis de Sade to E.T., Christopher Booker then leads us through the extraordinary changes in the nature of storytelling over the past 200 years, and why so many stories have 'lost the plot' by losing touch with their underlying archetypal purpose. Booker analyses why evolution has given us the need to tell stories and illustrates how storytelling has provided a uniquely revealing mirror to mankind's psychological development over the past 5000 years. This seminal book opens up in an entirely new way our understanding of the real purpose storytelling plays in our lives, and will be a talking point for years


Scripture Reference:

Genesis 6:1 - 9:17
Noah's Ark and the Flood - Story Summary:

God saw how great wickedness had become and decided to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. However, one righteous man among all the people of that time, Noah, found favor in God's eyes. With very specific instructions, God told Noah to build an ark for him and his family in preparation for a catastrophic flood that would destroy every living thing on earth.

God also instructed Noah to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, both male and female, and seven pairs of all the clean animals, along with every kind of food to be stored for the animals and his family while on the ark. Noah obeyed everything God commanded him to do.

After they entered the ark, rain fell on the earth for a period of forty days and nights. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days, and every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out. As the waters receded, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Noah and his family continued to wait for almost eight more months while the surface of the earth dried out.

Finally after an entire year, God invited Noah to come out of the ark. Immediately, he built an altar and worshiped the Lord with burnt offerings from some of the clean animals. God was pleased with the offerings and promised never again to destroy all the living creatures as he had just done. Later God established a covenant with Noah: "Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." As a sign of this everlasting covenant God set a rainbow in the clouds.
Points of Interest from the Story:

• God's purpose in the flood was not to destroy people, but to destroy wickedness and sin.

• With more detail in Genesis 7:2-3, God instructed Noah to take seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, and two of every kind of unclean animal. Bible scholars have calculated that approximately 45,000 animals might have fit on the ark.

• Genesis 7:16 interestingly points out that God shut them in the ark, or "closed the door," so to speak.

• The ark was exactly six times longer than it was wide. According to the Life Application Bible study notes, this is the same ratio used by modern ship builders.

• In modern times researchers continue to look for evidence of Noah's Ark. Check out this article by Joe Kovacs from © WorldNetDaily.com on the "Ararat Anomaly."
Question for Reflection:

Noah was righteous and blameless, but he was not sinless (see Genesis 9:20-21). Noah pleased God and found favor because he loved and obeyed God with his whole heart. As a result, Noah's life was an example to his entire generation. Although everyone around him followed the evil in their hearts, Noah followed God. Does your life set an example, or are you negatively influenced by the people around you?


Have a basic idea for a story, but don't know what to do now? There are a lot of articles telling you how to write once you have a plot, or how to expand your plot once you have the skeleton. But what do you do if you have nothing but the idea? This article will help you plot out a story from beginning to end, whether it be a children's picture book or a seven-part epic series.
Get an idea. If you have one lurking somewhere, great! If not, brainstorm, or mind map, or do one of the numerous other thought-generating exercises that can be found on the web. You don't need to make it a story just yet—but you do need a vague idea. It can start with anything: a phrase, a face, a character, or a situation, just so long as it's exciting and inspiring to you.
Turn your idea into an idea for a story. This is the high-level arc of the story. If you're familiar with the Snowflake Method, or other top-down methods of idea production, then you'll be familiar with this step. So, how do you turn a vague notion of a girl with dark eyes into a story idea? First, understand that stories are about two things: characters and conflict. Sure, there are other things in there, like theme and setting and POV and whatnot, but at the heart of every story, there are characters with a conflict. So let's take our dark-eyed girl. Now we start asking ourselves questions, with the goal of creating a character with a conflict. Who is she? What does she want? What is standing in the way of her getting it? Once you have a character with some sort of conflict, you have a story idea. Write that idea down.
Turn your idea into a story plot. Now, here comes the hard part. You have a high-level idea for a story, but how do you turn that into a plot? You could, of course, just start writing and see where it takes you, but if you felt any inclination to do that, it is doubtful that you'd be reading this article in the first place. You want your plot. So here's what you do: you come up with the ending first.

Yes, that's right, the end. Does our dark-eyed girl get her man? Or does she lose to the rich chick? Come up with your ending first, and if that doesn't spark a few plot points in and of itself, then continue reading on.

Think about your characters. Now, you have a conflict, you have characters, you have a beginning situation and an ending situation. If you still need help finding a plot, then what you need to do now is think about your characters. Flesh them out. Give them friends, families, jobs, histories, life-changing experiences, needs, and desires.
Build plot points. Now that you have your characters and the ending of your story, what you do to build plot points is basically play The Sims. You take your characters, put them in their world, and watch them interact. Be sure to take notes. Maybe one of them gets that big promotion. Maybe our dark-eyed girl competes in a swimming competition with the rich brat. Maybe her best friend finds out that she's never given up on that crush. Just come up with ideas for what they could do to affect their world, and what their world could do to affect them.
Fit your plot points into a story arc. Here comes the fun part. Now, some knowledge of story structure comes in useful here. For our purposes, Freytag's analysis is probably most useful. Stories have five parts:

Exposition - the character's normal life, up to the point of the "inciting incident" that pushes them into conflict.
Rising Action - the conflicts, struggles, and pitfalls that the character faces while trying to achieve their goals. In three act structure, the second act, and usually the meatiest portion of the story.
Climax - the most important part! The point at which all seems possible or impossible, and the character must decide whether to go for the win or take a graceful failure. The turning point of the story where the conflict comes to a head.
Falling Action - how things unfold after the climax, the hero wins or loses, all loose ends are tied up, leading to...
Denouement - a new balance, normal life once again, but different (or perhaps not so different) from the "normal life" of the character's exposition.

Place those potential plot points you came up with somewhere on the arc, working either backward or forward. Your ending probably falls into the Falling Action or Denouement stage, though if you're good (or lucky) you may have come up with the Climax instead. If you don't have the Climax itself, think of the resolution you want, and think of the event that would be necessary to create it. All things leading up to that event from the beginning are Rising Action. All things resulting from that event are Falling Action. And all things that don't fit into either one of those two categories shouldn't be used in your story, unless it's in a side plot.
Change around or redevelop your plot, as necessary. Now you should have a workable plot. It may not be intricate, it may not be pretty, but you have enough to start working with. Once you decide which scenes best illustrate the chain of events leading up to the Climax, you may decide that you want to change them around, or even change the Climax. This is okay. Writing is a creative process, and such things are never neatly cut and dried!


Remember, a plot is formed from your character's motivations. Put a lot of emphasis on the creation of your character before you plan on putting in any major event in your story. If you haven’t developed your character’s personality, how are you supposed to know how they will react to certain events in your story?
If you're writing the kind of story that needs a villain, give them a motivation. When you have thought of this, it will be easier to come up with a plot.


How to Write a Good Story Plot
By Kat Consador, eHow Contributor
How to Write a Good Story Plot thumbnail
Write a Good Story Plot

A plot is the foundation that holds the story together. It is also the author's plan of action. Good storytelling often has a good plot. A good plot requires some method of organization. A plot is the writer's blueprint during the actual writing process, preventing some--though, not all--forms of writer's block.
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Brainstorm. Delve into your imagination and jot ideas for your story plot. Free-writing may also be a beneficial way to brainstorm. To work more efficiently, apply a set period of time to your brainstorming session.

Seek out inspiration. Reading other stories is a way to understand what you like and dislike in other plots. Look around you, from current news stories and movies to groundbreaking research.

Choose basic characters. Some authors build characters before plot, while others build their plots first. However, having basic characters allows you to implement key players into your plot-building strategy.

Understand cause and effect. A plot is composed by a chain of events. Make sure your chain of events has plausible causes and effects.

Create rules and laws. This is especially important for science fiction or fantasy novels. If your plot does not follow simple logic (for example, time travel), establish rules and laws that remain consistent.

Choose a conflict. The problem or situation keeps the story interesting.

Pick a resolution. This is the basic ending to your story.

Organize. Apply your plot to a linear time line to easily show a sequence of events.

Apply the details. Add clever twists and turns, flashbacks or linking of a small detail in the beginning to the end of your story (for example, the first conversation in the story links to the murder at the end).

Write a basic synopsis of your plot.

Check that your plot flows smoothly and logically, while remaining consistent to the rules and laws that you have created.

Revise if your plot doesn't agree with you. You may even find yourself revising your plot during the actual writing process.

Read more: How to Write a Good Story Plot | eHow.com How to Write a Good Story Plot | eHow.com


I see a lot of stories fixated on the detail thinking this is the story forgetting the action an asking the question how does this relate to the story. Going off at tangents because the author feels like saying something instead of building energy and conflict in the story to give more reader appeal, at the end of the day our work only lives if it is read


Please don't copy and paste articles into the forums. Forums are for discussion, not posting articles. Feel free to post links to relevant articles, but the focus should be on promoting discussion. Pasting all of these articles means there is a lot to go through before forum members can see the topic of discussion and the questions you have asked. Generally, if you want to ask questions and provide articles as supporting material to centre discussion around, just use one post, post the links and ask the questions.

Posting articles like this not only gives forum members a lot to read that they might not be interested in, but also means that the creators of these artiles lose potential traffic to their sites that they would get if linked. Also, pasting content like this is untidy - formatting is not preserved, and unwanted text like "print this page" is pasted along with the articles. This makes the thread unattractive and forum members less likely to be interested in getting involved in the topic of discussion.

I'm going to lock this thread. If you want to post this topic in a discussion-friendly manner as I have described, feel free, but this version is locked.
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