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Master Plots

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An attempt to enumerate the Ur-plots...

What qualifies a plot as a Master Plot? Hard to say. Let's take Ronald B. Tobias' list as a kicking off point. He contends there are twenty basic stories. Any of these can be used in any genre.

  1. Quest: A character-driven story that has a hero go on a journey for something that changes him in some way.
  2. Adventure: A plot-driven story that focuses on reaching a series of goals.
  3. Pursuit: The Chase plot, very action oriented.
  4. Rescue: A Rescue Arc as the main story, also very action oriented.
  5. Escape: A Great Escape plot, similar to the Rescue, except the captive rescues himself/herself.
  6. The Riddle: Basic Mystery plot revolving around a Driving Question.
  7. Rivalry: Character-oriented story based on the interactions of two opposing characters, The Hero and The Rival.
  8. Underdog: A story where the Underdogs Never Lose. Revolves around an underdog (maybe they are underprivileged, poor, disabled, etc.) who triumphs despite overwhelming odds.
  9. Temptation: The story revolves around whether or not to give into a temptation, and the consequences, Pandora's Box-like.
  10. Metamorphosis: A story revolving around a physical transformation of some kind, generally a true Metamorphosis is a one-way street.
  11. Transformation: A story revolving around an inner-change, rather than a physical one.
  12. Maturation: A Coming of Age Story, where the a character matures physically, emotionally or spiritually.
  13. Love: Your basic Boy Meets Girl Romance Arc, with two characters falling in love as the main story.
  14. Forbidden Love: Star-Crossed Lovers who spend most of the plot trying to be together despite the world trying to tear them apart.
  15. Sacrifice: Revolves around a characters and their sacrifices, lethal or otherwise.
  16. Discovery: A story that unearths those skeletons in a character's Mysterious Past.
  17. Wretched Excess: Story where the character is in a downward spiral from drugs, greed, depression, insanity, etc.
  18. Vengeance: Your basic Revenge story, very character-driven.
  19. Ascension: Follows a character's rise to power.
  20. Descension: Like-wise to Ascension, follows a character fall from power.

from: Tobias, Ronald B. 20 Master Plots. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1993. (ISBN 0-89879-595-8)

Compare Booker's The Seven Basic Plots.