If we were to all sit in a circle and confess our sins, we would laugh at each other for lack of originality. – Khalil Gibran
Whatever original plot line you come up with someone has already used that same plot line. It is impossible to come up with a new plot.
In fact, Christopher Booker came up with seven basic plots that all books can be boiled down to. He worked on his theory of plots for over thirty years basing it off of Jungian psychology.
So without further ado here are the seven plot lines.
Overcoming the Monster
The protagonist sets out to overcome some kind of antagonist. Usually this antagonist is evil. There are occasions where the antagonist is not directly evil, however, these are less common.
Some books and movies that have this plot line are: Star Wars: A New Hope; Nickolas Nickleby; Beowulf; The War of the World; Fablehaven; and many superhero movies.
Rags to Riches
This is a popular plot line where the protagonist loses everything that they have, and then in a dramatically unexpected way they gain everything that they lost and more. Often what they gain is power, money, and love, although not necessarily all of these.
Some books and movies that have this plot line are: Cinderella; Jane Eyre; Aladdin; David Copperfield; and Great Expectations.
The protagonist and some companions must set out on a dangerous quest to get a powerful object or get to a certain location. Throughout the quest the companions must face difficult challenges to accomplish their goal.
Some books and movies that have this plot line are: Lord of the Rings; Watership Down; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; The Pilgrim’s Progress; and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Voyage and Return
The protagonist travels to a new land or world. There after overcoming threats the protagonist returns home with more experience and better prepared to face their normal lives.
Some books and movies that use this plot line are: The Hobbit; Alice in Wonderland; Gone with the Wind; Gulliver’s Travels; Finding Nemo; and the Chronicles of Narnia.
This is a fun and light-hearted story where the protagonist faces a series of ever more confusing challenges. The story ends when things get so confusing that everything is forced to be revealed in a single very confusing scene. These stories are very often romances.
Some books and movies that follow this plot line are: Midsummer’s Night’s Dream; Twelfth Night; Much Ado About Nothing; and A Comedy of Errors.
The protagonist has some great flaw that ends up being their undoing. Lots of people including the protagonist die.
Some books and movies that have this plot line are: Macbeth; Hamlet; and Romeo and Juliet.
During the course of the story the protagonist is forced to change usually for the better.
Some books and movies that include this plot line are: Beauty and the Beast; A Christmas Carol; Despicable Me; and The Secret Garden.
Many books and movies include parts of these different plot lines combined in different ways to form different stories.
As a writer this theory of the seven basic plots is an interesting thing to consider. It allows us to let go of all the worry of creating something new and original, and instead focus on writing something that we enjoy.
Another interesting thing to consider, is what plot line, or plot lines, do the novel that you are writing follow? When I thought about it the novel that I am currently writing mainly follows the plot line of the Quest and then it also follows the Overcoming the Monster plot line.
This is a plot theory that can help writers and is fascinating to consider as readers.