What are some popular movie plot patterns

20 master plots - new: German edition

The German edition of the classic was out of print for years, now the textbook has been re-published by the Authors' House Verlag: 20 master plots by Ronald B. Tobias. In his manual for plotting, the author describes 20 prototypical plots and their structures. In detailed analyzes with numerous examples, he explains the forces behind the stories. For each master plot, Tobias has also put together a checklist of what is important when implementing this plot pattern.

Many writers have worked with prototypical plot models. Rudyard Kipling, the author of Jungle Book, assumed there were 69 plot patterns. Carlo Gozzi, an 18th-century Italian theater poet, believed in 36 typical plots and the Greek philosopher Aristotle described two. This is based on the assumption that there are typical basic patterns of stories that have proven themselves in legends, novels, films and short stories.

The classic around these plot patterns is the textbook by Ronald B. Tobias. His master plots help plan a working plot and show what many people respond to with interest and curiosity. Tobias' book sharpens the eye for tried and tested structures, different types of stories and their main elements. The master plots can be a practical aid for consciously planning the tension in a novel.

Ronald B. Tobias: 20 master plots. The basis of story building in novels and films. Authors' House Verlag 2016, 24.99 euros, ISBN 9783866711310.Order from Amazon.


The 20 master plots by Ronald B. Tobias

  • 1. The search
    The main character is looking for: a person, a place, a treasure, a formula, etc. A very old motif that has been reinterpreted in many stories for thousands of years. The focus is on the figure of the seeker, who is changed by the search. It's a psychological plot, not an action plot.
  • 2. The adventure
    Similar to the “The Search” plot, but with crucial differences: The adventure plot is primarily an action plot. The focus is on the journey (not the main character). The main character seeks happiness, which is never at home, only somewhere out there. It doesn't really matter if the main character changes because it's not a psychological plot. What matters is the next moment and what happens then.
  • 3. The persecution
    The most popular children's games include “hide and seek” and “catch”. Children and adults alike love this thrill. The literary version is the chase plot. It's one of the most easily structured plots. Within a very short time it is clear who is bad and who is good - and who is chasing whom.
  • 4. The rescue
    The rescue plot is also an action plot: more important than subtle psychological portraits is the question of what happens next. But here the focus is more on the antagonist: the story is based on the dynamic between protagonist, victim and antagonist. The main conflict arises from the protagonist's search and attempt to get back what he has lost.
  • 5. The escape
    The escape plot is also an action plot: the story focuses on the mechanisms of capture and escape.
  • 6. The vengeance
    The main motif: The protagonist takes revenge on the antagonist for a real or perceived injustice. A very emotional topic that touches most people. Because very many have a deeply felt feeling for right and wrong. The events almost always take place outside of the law.
  • 7. The riddle
    Children and adults alike love puzzles that challenge and entertain us at the same time. A riddle is a well thought out, profound or ambiguous question. In order to find the answer, all levels of meaning of the question must be explored. But the answer must not be too simple (then the readers feel they are not being taken seriously) and not too difficult (then you lose the readers).
  • 8. The rivalry
    Two people with the same goal: to conquer the same person, win the battle, win a tender. Rivalry is an ancient human motive: Cain and Abel, Greeks and Romans. The opponents are equal and the fight takes place at eye level.
  • 9. The underdog
    The underdog plot is also about rivalry, but in contrast to the rivalry plot, the opponents are not equal. The protagonist struggles with massive disadvantages and hardly has a chance. This basic constellation usually touches our hearts because we sympathize with the underdog.
  • 10. The temptation
    In the temptation plot, the main character is tempted or persuaded to do something that is either unwise, wrong, or immoral. No one gets through life without being tempted. The oldest example is Paradise, where Adam and Eve were tempted.
  • 11. The metamorphosis
    The metamorphosis plot is fairytale-like (often: science fiction or fantasy), but the stories are always about us humans: They reveal a truth that is otherwise difficult to recognize. The plot is about a change - both physically and emotionally.
  • 12. The transformation
    The transformation plot tells the change in a person - from one essential state of character to another essential state of character. It is based on the millions of years of human ability and necessity to adapt to changing circumstances in order to survive. But it is also part of the fact that people will always remain the same in some things. The transformation plot revolves around essential changes and thus goes beyond the usual changes in the protagonists of a story.
  • 13. The maturation
    While the transformation plot is about adults who change significantly, the maturation plot is about adolescents on their way to becoming adults.
  • 14. Love
    One of the most central issues of humanity: woman meets man or man meets woman. But since stories live from conflict, that's not enough for a book or a film. Therefore, the basic constellation of the love plot is: Woman meets man, but ... The "but" refers to obstacles that stand between the two people.
  • 15. Forbidden love
    Like the love plot, but the "but" in this case refers to the violation of social taboos such as different ethnicities, ages, social classes and the like. The forbidden love plot is always based on the values ​​of a society. Example homosexuality: In old books and films, the main conflict in the love story was the same-sex couple, a classic forbidden love plot. It is becoming more and more common in modern stories that same-sex couple is not the real problem. Since the conflicts have other causes, it is mostly a classic love plot.
  • 16. The victim
    The age-old concept of sacrifice is based on the fact that an object is sacrificed for a god in order to establish a relationship between the victim and God. In modern literature there is usually no God involved, but someone sacrifices something for a concept or an idea such as love, honor or mercy.
  • 17. The discovery
    People are always looking for who they really are. While philosophers fill entire volumes with abstract considerations of this question, writers and their protagonists deal with it in a very concrete way. The Discovery Plot is a plot of characters as it revolves around people and their quest to find who they are.
  • 18. The borderline experience
    In this plot, people experience an absolute state of exception: either ordinary people experience extraordinary circumstances or extraordinary people experience ordinary circumstances. The characters are exposed to an absolute state of emergency and have to react to it. And almost any of these characters could be ourselves.
  • 19. + 20. rise and fall
    The two plots refer to the opposing positions in the cycle of success and failure. While the ascent plot describes a person's ascent, the fall plot tells of their fall. Some stories tell both - the rise and the fall. At the center of these plots is the main character, around whom all other characters revolve - how stars in a solar system revolve around the sun (main character).
Dr. Anette Huesmann is an author, lecturer in creative writing and linguist. She leads workshops on creative writing, writes books and advises (prospective) authors. Here you will find the current writing courses and here you can find out more about their advisory services.
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