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20 Basic Plots For Story Generators
by Pavel Simakov on 2006-06-16 12:59:27 under Code Generation, view comments
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The 20 Basic Plots are collected by the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. After you come up with your own system for generating ideas, the next step is to put them in some recognizable story form (the basic plot idea), build your central conflict (the story premise sheet), then build your character and underlying themes (the thematic premise sheet).

1. QUEST - the plot involves the Protagonist's search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible (but must be quantifiable, so think of this as a noun; i.e., immortality).

2. ADVENTURE - this plot involves the Protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, the Protagonist goes to search for it somewhere over the rainbow.

3. PURSUIT - this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another.

4. RESCUE - this plot involves the Protagonist searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters - the Protagonist, the Victim & the Antagonist.

5. ESCAPE - plot involves a Protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include some one trying to escape their personal demons).

6. REVENGE - retaliation by Protagonist or Antagonist against the other for real or imagined injury.

7. THE RIDDLE - plot involves the Protagonist's search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.

8. RIVALRY - plot involves Protagonist competing for same object or goal as another person (their rival).

9. UNDERDOG - plot involves a Protagonist competing for an object or goal that is at a great disadvantage and is faced with overwhelming odds.

10. TEMPTATION - plot involves a Protagonist that for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong or immoral.

11. METAMORPHOSIS - this plot involves the physical characteristics of the Protagonist actually changing from one form to another (reflecting their inner psychological identity).

12. TRANSFORMATION - plot involves the process of change in the Protagonist as they journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

13. MATURATION - plot involves the Protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerging into a state of adulthood (going from innocence to experience).

14. LOVE - plot involves the Protagonist overcoming the obstacles to love that keeps them from consummating (engaging in) true love.

15. FORBIDDEN LOVE - plot involves Protagonist(s) overcoming obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship (and sometimes finding it at too high a price to live with).

16. SACRIFICE - plot involves the Protagonist taking action(s) that is motivated by a higher purpose (concept) such as love, honor, charity or for the sake of humanity.

17. DISCOVERY - plot that is the most character-centered of all, involves the Protagonist having to overcome an upheavel(s) in their life, and thereby discovering something important (and buried) within them a better understanding of life (i.e., better appreciation of their life, a clearer purpose in their life, etc.)

18. WRETCHED EXCESS - plot involves a Protagonist who, either by choice or by accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences (generally deals with the psychological decline of the character).

19. ASCENSION - rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of Protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

20. DECISION - riches-to-rags plot deals with the fall (destruction) of Protagonist due to dominating character trait that eventually destroys their success.

(Note: Sometimes #19 & #20 are combined into rags-to-riches-to-rags (or vice versa) of a Protagonist who does (or doesn't) learn to deal with their dominating character trait). For an in-depth look at these plots, read the excellent "20 Master Plots and How To Build Them" by Ronald B. Tobias.

Looking At People Through Their Words illustrates the use of artificial intelligence and data mining for text analysis. Movie Plot And Random Story Generators covers drama theory and computer-based text generators.

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Comments (32)

  • Comment by Antiques — May 9, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

    this is true, everything does fall into these catergories

  • Comment by Flatbeard — May 10, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

    I’d add the (of course somewhat obvious) possibilites of combinations, reverse the central idea, hide parts of it from the reader or write something that includes several of the above choices in separate but intertwining stories.

  • Comment by Curtis — May 11, 2008 @ 1:01 am

    Umm, not everything… Man From Earth was a wonderful movie that doesn’t fall into anyone of these.

  • Comment by T.P. Mooney — May 11, 2008 @ 9:18 am

    #21… Galvanization.
    Only used in more surreal, French or Italian pieces, as the concept does not translate well into the English or American structure.
    First person present, internal, no plot or sub-plot, only actualization of being.

  • Comment by sir jorge — May 13, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

    this is awesome, i guess there’s just nothing new under the sun.

  • Comment by me — May 13, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

    Aristotle already systematized the categories of plays. We’re basically re-writing the same stories, and Hollywood simplifies them

  • Comment by Alan — May 14, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

    I’m told by a writer friend that there is also a model called Picareseque. The Huck Finn model, in which the protagonist begins and ends an unrepentant rogue.

  • Comment by des — May 14, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

    star wars has all of these

  • Comment by phoebe — May 26, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

    is it just moe or do you realy mean descension instead of decision on #20?

  • Comment by jitendra — May 27, 2008 @ 12:53 am

    Hello!!

    This is very good and i love this site.
    Helps a lot to write a plot properly.

    Thanks.
    Jitendra

  • Comment by Jach — June 3, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

    Didn’t Shakespeare only say there were about 14? (Maybe it was just for plays.) Ah well, I can’t be bothered to look that one up. It’s a nice list though, helps people see how unoriginal their ideas are. =P

  • Comment by Izkata — July 5, 2008 @ 11:36 pm

    Another that’s not really on here: Being forced out of your old life. It’s similar to Quest or Adventure, except you don’t really have a goal, but different enough that I think it deserves it’s own number.

  • Comment by paresh — July 6, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

    nice list.

  • Comment by Alphabetix — July 16, 2008 @ 4:38 am

    Cool list.

  • Comment by Frostatine — July 19, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

    The list was really neat, I’ve even copied it down for my own writing puposes. My question is: To what degree can you interpret each and have them as a part of your plot. For example, if a man is in a quest for ascention, but can only reach that through defeating a rival, which is the major plot?

  • Comment by Ryan — July 27, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    So many of these can be abstracted down into even fewer. Probably under 10, easily.

  • Comment by Anon — August 24, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    I was taught there were 36 plots, minus all combinations of the 36.

  • Comment by ThisListIs Plagiarised — October 12, 2008 @ 11:16 pm

    This list was directly plagiarised from the book: 20 Master Plots and how to build them. by Robert B Tobias. 2003. Writers Digest Books. The plagiarists got the final one wrong (they can’t even steal accurately). The final one in the book is Descension not Decision (Duh) This list should be taken down or the author’s permission obtained. http://www.amazon.com/20-Master-Plots-Build-Them/dp/1582972397/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223867747&sr=8-1

  • Comment by Robert Karl — February 4, 2009 @ 7:51 am

    Plot #20 should read ‘Descention’ not ‘Decision’

  • Comment by arthur — February 6, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

    Thanks…very cool. Going to write a David Lynch inspired tale with ALL of these. AC

  • Comment by Michael — June 13, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

    remember though:

    sometimes a plot could be a fuson of diffrent types

  • Comment by Godlovesyou — December 31, 2010 @ 9:38 am

    The Percy Jackson series has all of these!

  • Comment by sb — May 1, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    Hmmm, interesting

  • Comment by garry — October 6, 2011 @ 3:04 am

    There is only one plot: Somebody wants something that's difficult to get. Success = comedy, failure = tragedy. All else is variations on a theme. My list is shorter.

  • Comment by Fang — February 1, 2012 @ 1:12 am

    Cool list i have also copied this list for my own writing purposes only because i was stuck for ideas and am hoping to be a journalist one day seeing as i am only 14.

  • Comment by Kiana — June 4, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

    Excellent list. Naruto has all of these–no wonder it's so popular & epic.

  • Comment by bakeca bari — February 5, 2013 @ 11:22 pm

    great post

  • Comment by Anonymous — April 9, 2013 @ 1:57 am

    I've created a plot that involves PURSUIT of the protagonist who is a runaway slave that ESCAPED confinement and is on a RESCUE mission to find the brother of a girl he had just met who's been M.I.A after being deployed in war.

    This leads to themes that involve being an UNDERDOG and RETALIATING because together they face ruthless tyrants while trying to foster peace and prosperity in a region that has known nothing but war. This task seems next to impossible. There is also FORBIDDEN LOVE because he is a runaway slave and she is of nobility. They are both risking their life for the good of humanity, and in an act of self SACRIFICE she dies in the process. He is TEMPTED into engaging in REVENGE for the loss of loved ones, something he normally wouldn't do, while facing deep despair. He becomes angry and vicious. This creates internal conflict when he goes against values he held closely. In the end he MATURES, undergoes TRANSFORMATION, and DISCOVERS things about himself as he decides to embark on a personal ADVENTURE to solve the RIDDLE of god, heaven, and the meaning of life. The main antagonist undergoes DESCENSION and the heroines brother undergoes ASCENSION. METAMORPHOSIS occurs because he begins the story as a young boy and grows into a man. The only thing I couldn't fit into this was love.

    What would be the main plot in such a story? Some of these could be combined to form a smaller list.

  • Comment by Kate — September 30, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

    I would argue that revenge is a motivation (similar to fear or greed) rather than a plot archetype. Revenge is a reason for a plot – you might pursue someone for revenge, for example – rather than a plot itself.

  • Comment by Donna Thompson(Foresta Gump) Original — December 15, 2013 @ 10:23 am

    Hello HayHouse

    Louise, Reid, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and all the rest of you great talented people, luv ya all!

    In this fabulous informative article 20 Basic Plots For Story Generators I was hoping to see the word 'Protagonist' for it's descriptive meaning.

    I'm no story writer but interested in learning; I find this article to be the best I've ever come across–Thank you very much for sharing it.

    As I was reading the words one by one down the list, I visualized a story with each one, especially 'Wretched Excess' I could write about this and use myself as the protagonist. I imagine the protagonist to be the instigator, the initiator, even the writer in the first person. I learned from bare predicates to dangling modifiers and protagonist/antagonist, but forgot it all, now I find I need to relearn this stuff for future books.

    Currently I'm writing a book but it doesn't involve any of the above. I don't know how to write a story book with characters/plots/setting/theme/time etc. My book is about fascinating true mini stories/poetry that speaks a message/contemplations/quotes/news etc.

    I write my own unique creative vision. Unique is individual–distinguished and set apart from the norm.

    I saved this valuable information for later usage–Thanks again!

    Donna Thompson

  • Comment by Luke — January 18, 2014 @ 5:13 am

    Why would you want to write any of these when there's always something new to create?

  • Comment by Sinister — February 10, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    Is it a bad thing though? That stories fall into these…makes me feel like I should try to be extremely different.


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