English Literature: Basic Plots

Table of Contents
Spoilers!!! (duh)

According to many1 reputable2 sources3, stories and narratives in the English language always follow one (or some combination) of several “basic plots”

The exact number is disputed.

It’s important to remember that these very rarely exist on their own. Basic plots tend to be combined together to form cohesive stories, but every story contains some element of at least some of these plots.


Overcoming the Monster

The name kinda gives it away

  • In this plot, the protagonist(s) learn of some sort of evil force/monster/evil organisation
  • The story arc is basically the “good guys” trying to defeat the monster
  • Usually, there are 3 kinds of “monsters”:
    • Predators, which go hunting for victims (i.e. Kaiju in Pacific Rim)
    • Holdfasts, which guard a treasure/person (i.e. the Dragon in Shrek)
    • Avengers, which seek to defeat someone who has stolen the treasure (i.e. Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride)

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Is the best introduction of all time.

Also here’s a diagram for you guys:

Overcoming the Monster
Overcoming the Mon…
Viewer does not support full SVG 1.1

Rags to Riches

TL;DR: Basically Cinderella/Hamilton

  • The protagonist starts off (usually) poor
  • Then some Magical Event™ occurs, which provides them with wealth/power/looks, usually accompanied by True Love™

As you can probably tell, Rags to Riches is not my favourite plot, because it usually fails the Mako Mori Test for either the male or female protagonist

  • The climax of this plot is a crisis, where the protagonist abuses their power, and their Main Rival exposes them, returning them to a state around where they started
  • Then there is a final ordeal, in which the protagonist either
    • Fulfils their “purpose” and is rewarded (Cinderella) OR
    • Dies (Hamilton)

The Quest

TL;DR: Star Wars/LotR/Basically any Sci-Fi

  • Basically, this plot involves a journey motivated by a search for an object or piece of information

This plot is pretty much always combined with other plots, usually Overcoming the Monster

This isn’t really a plot to be honest, it’s more of a trope.

New World

TL;DR: the Harry Potter universe, the Percy Jackson universe, the Skulduggery Pleasant universe, American Gods, basically anything you read when reading was Cool™

  • This plot is based on a protagonist being forced into “another world”

    “Yer a wizard, Harry”

  • They are usually unfamiliar with the way that the world works, and make early initial blunders
  • This plot usually goes with the Chosen One trope, where the protagonist has been chosen by a prophecy/god/something to Overcome the Monster
  • At least one of the antagonists tends to be someone who is more familiar with the world, usually having been raised there


Not the kind you think

  • Comedies are more of a trope than a plot
  • Basically any time there’s a story within a story, it’s referred to as a comedy


TL;DR: King Lear

  • Stories which end in the protagonist and/or some of the main “good guys” dying
  • The main characters tend to be more morally ambiguous, and the antagonist may be more of an anti-hero than a villain (Thanos rather than Loki)
  • The protagonists usually start off having a good time, but then they face something they can’t beat
    • This is usually followed by some sort of “deal with the devil”,, followed by a brief positive progression
    • Then everything collapses, and Everyone Dies, The End™

The plot graph looks something like this:


  • Take tragedy but make it a happy ending

Yeah it’s not that amazing but whatever


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2021 Graduate, UNSW Medicine first year.