Plot Chart

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):

  1. “’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.
  2. “’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.
  3. “’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:

  1. [wo]man vs.      nature
  2. [wo]man vs.      [wo]man
  3. [wo]man vs.      the environment
  4. [wo]man vs.      machines/technology
  5. [wo]man vs.      the supernatural
  6. [wo]man vs.      self
  7. [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:

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden      Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched      Excess
  19. Ascension
  20. Descension.

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.):

  1. Supplication      (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
  2. Deliverance
  3. Crime      Pursued by Vengeance
  4. Vengeance      taken for kindred upon kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling      Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring      Enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. The Enigma (temptation      or a riddle)
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of      Kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of      Kinsmen
  15. Murderous      Adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal      Imprudence
  18. Involuntary      Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother,      sister, etc.)
  19. Slaying of      a Kinsman Unrecognized
  20. Self-Sacrificing      for an Ideal
  21. Self-Sacrifice      for Kindred
  22. All      Sacrificed for Passion
  23. Necessity      of Sacrificing Loved Ones
  24. Rivalry of      Superior and Inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of      Love
  27. Discovery      of the Dishonor of a Loved One
  28. Obstacles      to Love
  29. An Enemy      Loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict      with a God
  32. Mistaken      Jealousy
  33. Erroneous      Judgement
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of      a Lost One
  36. Loss of      Loved Ones

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