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September 5, 2009 3:09 AM   Subscribe

What are the prototypical or stereotypical plots and storylines?

I'm looking for a list of the prototypical plots or storylines for both Western and Eastern fiction. I'm not interested the "man vs. nature" prototypical conflicts they taught in high school. I'm looking for more detailed, but still universal, plotlines.

For example, one might be: "Village has a problem. Mysterious stranger(s) rides into town. Solves problem without reducing his mystery. Leaves." Or "World is about to end. Reluctant hero is badgered into action."

As my examples show, I don't need much detail. But I want a lot of them. I'm just as happy with your suggestions as with external links to compiled lists.
posted by Netzapper to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Well, there's TV Tropes' section for plots. Lots of basic outlines there, with examples.
posted by maqsarian at 3:16 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. Protagonist leaves home in search of something or someone. Has experiences which change him. Returns home either with or without object of quest, but wiser.

2. Protagonist pursues antagonist. Either catches him or doesn't. Over the course of the pursuit, protagonist and antagonist come to understand one another a little better.

3. Protagonist braves many dangers to rescue someone or something valuable.

4. Protagonist escapes from confinement, either physical or emotional. There is usually at least one failed attempt before she succeeds.

5. Protagonist seeks justice. Conventional mechanisms of justice fail, so she exacts satisfying but morally ambiguous revenge.

6. Protagonist and antagonist are rivals. They compete against one another in increasingly high-stakes ways. One of them triumphs. As with the pursuit plot, they come to understand (and perhaps sympathise with) one another.

7. Morally upright protagonist experiences temptation. He either succumbs or rises above it.

8. Two people are in love, but there are obstacles. The obstacles are either overcome (love story) or are not (tragic love story).

9. Protagonist must make a sacrifice for the greater good. Does so.

10. Protagonist rises to and/or falls from greatness.
posted by him at 3:41 AM on September 5, 2009

The Seven Basic Plots.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 4:05 AM on September 5, 2009

George Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations

More game oriented, but still good:
The Big List of RPG Plots
posted by lucidium at 4:10 AM on September 5, 2009

The Byronic hero, ie., Han Solo: the selfish renegade with a Heart of Gold has a change of heart, thus becoming the hero.

Also, the hooker with a heart of gold.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:17 AM on September 5, 2009

I cannot more highly recommend The Seven Basic Plots, linked above by Clanvidhorse. Fascinating book.
posted by CRM114 at 6:21 AM on September 5, 2009

Innocent child inspires personal change in an unliked or unpleasant adult. (The Secret Garden, Heidi, Goodnight Mr Tom, About a Boy, Gran Torino...)
posted by emilyw at 7:05 AM on September 5, 2009

Check out Blake Snyder's "Save The Cat Goes To The Movies" (I like it a lot better than his first one, "Save the Cat.")

He has a fascinating list including

1) The Golden Fleece

2) Dude With Problem

posted by Kirklander at 7:33 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Plotto" by William Wallace Cook. Revamped as "Plots Unlimited"

And if you REALLY get into this dramaturigical under-the-hood kinda stuff, look into "Dramatica".
posted by RavinDave at 7:39 AM on September 5, 2009

Seconding Blake Snyder, who just died recently (suddenly and unexpectedly).


His particular focus was screenwriting but his insights cut across all narrative boundaries. And don't be put off by the, to my mind, lameness of his own stories (he focused on family comedies), his breakdown of character, dramatic and plot elements and how they all serve The Story is clear and accurate, and relevant to anything from the heaviest of tragedy to the lightest of farce.
posted by philip-random at 9:54 AM on September 5, 2009

This page should rock your world.
posted by juv3nal at 11:29 AM on September 5, 2009

It's been a long while since I've read this, and I can't find it on my shelves, but Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale does what you're asking (and was maybe one of the first to do it?). It specifically examines Russian folktales, but I think gets read as though the approach is generalizable. You might, however, find it irritating. (Wikipedia page listing Propp's typology of narrative units.)
posted by nobody at 12:57 PM on September 5, 2009

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Classic.
posted by moonroof at 4:22 PM on September 5, 2009

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Classic.

My link covers that as well as Propp & Polti...
posted by juv3nal at 4:39 PM on September 5, 2009

Jorn Barger's Anti-math arguably collects tropes along with plots, but it doesn't really distinguish the two.
posted by eritain at 6:33 PM on September 5, 2009 Once you enter this site, you'll be gone for about five years.
posted by Muirwylde at 3:07 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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