Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MBN Welcomes Louise Baker, Writing about Basic Story Plots

Our guest blogger today is Louise Baker, who writes about seven basic plots that are the foundation of most novels, including mysteries and suspense thrillers.

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Basic Story Plots, and their Sub-Genre Variations

Nearly every story that has ever been written, whether for a novel, short story, movie, or television show, follows one of seven basic story plots. While stories can certainly be made more complex by combining these with one another, playing with the reader's expectations, and creating in depth characters who feel real, it is almost inevitable that any story you read or write will be a variation of one of these seven story types.

The Quest:

A quest story hinges upon the idea of a problem that has significant repercussions on the world of the novel. The main character of the story must solve this problem by striving to reach a goal that typically requires a journey of some kind and a great deal of self-improvement. This journey will introduce the character to many obstacles that must be faced and defeated in order to achieve the goal.

The Voyage and Return:

This story type is very similar to the quest in that it revolves around a journey. The difference in this case is that the character is transported to a place that challenges him, and is then brought back to his or her home. This process leaves the character with a greater knowledge of themselves and their world.


This is a story about a character who has become trapped by some kind of internal psychological struggle. The character can only be freed of his or her imprisonment by the intervention of outside forces that allow them to change for the better.


The traditional definition of comedy has nothing to do with humor. Instead, it is a story in which a series of events causes the characters to endure increasingly disruptive problems until the extreme form of the problem is inevitably reached, and solved in and ending that ends well for the characters.


A tragedy is a story about a character who makes a series of sympathetic but ultimately detrimental decisions, leading them to an ending that is unsatisfactory for them. Tragedies typically involve characters who start out with a lot in the world, and lose it all.

Defeating the Monster:

This is a classic hero versus villain tale in which an evil force or personality that is acting against the world must be defeated by the main character.

Rags to Riches:

This is a story in which somebody who has very little is suddenly given a great deal. This great gift is then taken away from the main character for one reason or another, and the character must earn it back.

Romances often take on the form of a rags to riches, tragedy, or rebirth story. Science fiction and fantasy often involve quests or "voyage and return" stories, as do many thrillers. Thrillers, mysteries, and horror stories usually take on a defeating the monster story. Tragedies are rare in modern storytelling, so most stories can be considered comedies.

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Louise Baker ranks online degrees for Zen College Life, and most recently wrote about the best colleges online.


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