Master Plots

This list is taken from Ronald B. Tobias, 20 Master Plots and How to Build them, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1993

1: QUEST The plot involves the Protagonist's search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible.

2: ADVENTURE This plot involves a Protagonist who goes in search of fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, he must go to search for it somewhere over the rainbow.

3: PURSUIT This plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another.

4: RESCUE This plot involves the Protagonist who searches for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters - the Protagonist, the Victim & the Antagonist.

5: ESCAPE This plot involves a Protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include some one trying to escape their personal demons).

6: REVENGE This plot involves retaliation by a Protagonist or Antagonist against the other for real or imagined injury.

7: THE RIDDLE This plot involves the Protagonist's search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.

8: RIVALRY This plot involves a Protagonist who competes for the same object or goal as another person (the rival).

9: UNDERDOG This plot involves a Protagonist who competes for an object or goal. He is at a great disadvantage and is facing overwhelming odds.

10: TEMPTATION This plot involves a Protagonist who for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong or immoral.

11: METAMORPHOSIS This plot involves the change of physical characteristics. The Protagonist changes from one form to another (reflecting their inner psychological identity).

12: TRANSFORMATION This plot involves the process of change in the Protagonist as they journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

13: MATURATION This plot involves the Protagonist who faces a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerges into a state of adulthood (going from innocence to experience).

14: LOVE This plot involves a Protagonist who overcomes the obstacles to love that keeps him from consummating (engaging in) true love.

15: FORBIDDEN LOVE This plot involves a Protagonist(s) who overcomes obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate a relationship (and sometimes finding it comes at a heavy price).

16: SACRIFICE This plot involves a Protagonist who takes action(s) that is motivated by a higher purpose (concept) such as love, honor, charity or for the sake of humanity.

17: DISCOVERY This plot that is the most character-centered of all. The Protagonist has to overcome an upheavel(s) in his life, and thereby discovering something important (and buried) within, and coming to a better understanding of life (i.e., better appreciation of their life, a clearer purpose in their life, etc.)

18: WRETCHED EXCESS This plot involves a Protagonist who, either by choice or by accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences (generally deals with the psychological decline of the character).

This plot involves a rags-to-riches story that deals with the rise (success) of the Protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps him to succeed. They are sometimes combined into rags-to-riches-to-rags story (or vice versa) of a Protagonist who does (or doesn't) learn to deal with their dominating character trait.

See also: Plot Ideas that Sell; and 36 Dramatic Situations