Russian formalist Vladimir Propp, in his book ''Morphology of the Folk Tale,'' described in rather abstract terms a set of recurring plot devices that he found in a certain genre of Russian folk tales. Not all of them are there and they don't all happen in the same order in the stories he studied, but they are a large part of how we recognize a text as a fairy tale; although sometimes you have to smush the tropes to make them fit right. This was probably one of the first critical trope-spottings.

Propp doesn't imply that the "functions" he found are universal in fiction (but some are very general), nor that they are an exhaustive description of fairy tales, nor that they are directly applicable to other traditions of fairy tales (but other European fairy tales are actually very similar to the ones Propp studied).

Propp's very popular work was important for two related structuralist ideas: that all fictional works have basically the same structure underneath, and that a story can be created by instantiating a sequence of abstract plot elements. [[Wiki/TVTropes Sound familiar?]]

The typical sequence of functions is:

* 0: [[{{Arcadia}} The Initial]] [[BackStory Situation]] - The setup.
* 1: [[ParentalAbandonment The Absentations]] - Someone leaves or dies. Usually a parent.
* 2: [[RuleNumberOne The Interdiction]] - A big rule is set up. Don't touch the spinning wheel. You can't go to the ball. You know the drill.
* 3: [[DontTouchItYouIdiot Violation]] - Someone breaks the big rule. This could be good or bad as seen by the examples above.
* 4: [[TheSpymaster Reconnaissance]] - The villain spies on the hero or the [[KnowledgeBroker hero learns about the villain.]]
* 5: Delivery - The searching party discovers information.
* 6: [[DevilInPlainSight Trickery]] - Villain tricks hero.
* 7: [[DealWithTheDevil Complicity]] - The hero is forced, tricked or influenced by magic to do something bad. There are bad consequences.
* 8: [[{{Villains}} Villainy]] - Baddy [=McBadson=] does something really evil, normally stealing the {{Macguffin}} or kidnapping the princess.
* 9: Meditation - The goodies figure out a plan and get ready to set out on their quest.
* 10: Beginning counteraction - The heroes choose to fight back.
* 11: [[TheQuest Departure]] - They... depart. Voluntarily or not.
* 12: First function of donor - The hero run into a donor or a magic dude. This character can be [[MentorArchetype The Obi-Wan]], [[OracularUrchin a mysterious beggar]] or a [[ThresholdGuardians "None Shall Pass"]] kind of character. They may have to [[SecretTestOfCharacter pass a test]]. The hero may have to fight the donor. But on the bright side, the donor may have a magical object to help them on their quest.
* 13: Protagonist reaction - The hero outsmarts, outfights or finds a way around the donor's demands. He gets the {{Macguffin}}.
* 14: [[{{Mentors}} Acquisition of Magical Agent]] - The obi-wan type character. Can be the donor. This character helps the hero on his quest, sometimes willingly, sometimes not.
* 15: [[CantRefuseTheCallAnymore Transference]] - The hero is taken to a new place. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Grammatically.
* 16: [[EarnYourHappyEnding Struggle]] - Our hero (surprisingly) struggles.
* 17: Branding - Our hero for his efforts is marked out as a hero either with a token or with a [[AcheyScars mark on his body]].
* 18: Victory - The hero beats the villain with his wits, his special abilities or his brawn.
* 19: [[GondorCallsForAid Liquidation]] - The goodies all help the hero, and get what they were after.
* 20: [[WhereItAllBegan The Return]] - Guess.
* 21: [[ChaseScene Pursuit]] - The heroes are chased by the villain, who is going all OneWingedAngel on them.
* 22: Rescue - The goodies run for it and escape by placing obstacles in the villain's path.
* 23: [[NeverAcceptedInHisHometown Unrecognised]] - The hero comes home and no one knows who he is because...
* 24: [[FakeUltimateHero Unfounded Claims]] - Some Il Capitano-Zapp Brannigan-Gilderoy Lockhart character claims he saved the day.
* 25: [[ImpossibleTask Difficult Task]] - To prove he's the Hero the Hero must, well prove himself. It can be an ordeal of choice, a riddle or a test of strength.
* 26: Solution - The Hero chooses right/guesses right/wins the fight.
* 27: [[TheReveal Recognition]] - Everyone realises that the hero is the hero through his special mark, the fact they got the right solution or through simple recognition.
* 28: [[FeetOfClay Exposure]] - The false hero is shown up.
* 29: [[RagsToRoyalty Transfiguration]] - The hero gets a makeover. Or at least new clothes or a palace.
* 30: [[DeaderThanDead Punish]][[FateWorseThanDeath ment]] - False Hero and Villain (and yes, they can be the same guy) get what's coming to them.
* 31: [[HappilyEverAfter The Wedding]] - Usually [[StandardHeroReward the hero marries the princess]] or something like that, but the wedding can just be a general celebration from getting crowned to a party.

These are found in many folk tales, such as "Literature/{{Cinderella}}" and "Literature/SnowWhite", but also in more modern works like ''Film/{{Labyrinth}}'', ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings'', ''Franchise/StarWars'' and ''Film/PansLabyrinth''. There are also elements of these devices found in even more ancient texts such as ''Literature/TheOdyssey''. See also TheHerosJourney.