Though there have been millions of books published throughout the ages, there are actually a limited number of plots. People may disagree on the exact number and names, but I was first introduced to the concept by Dr. Dennis Hensley. He described nine plots. As I need to brush up on them myself, I’m going to spend the next few weeks exploring the details of each of these plots. Until then, here they are:
- Character vs. Character: Diametrically opposite, the characters must be different, and there’s only one winner. (Rocky vs. Apollo, Thor vs. Loki)
- Character vs. Himself: The character wrestles against himself, wondering what he’s made of. (16 Blocks, High Noon)
- Character vs. God: Think of the Old Testament book of Job, or the novel The Shack – characters confront God to seek answers (and maybe even find out how God works).
- Character vs. Destiny: Do we really have control over our lives, or is everything already planned? (Oedipus Rex, Oliver Queen in Arrow)
- Character vs. the Unknown: Anytime a character is going into or taking on the unknown. ( Any Star Trek series, the Matrix series)
- Character vs. the Machine: Man versus technology (2001: a Space Odyssey, iRobot)
- Character vs. Setting: When the greatest struggles come from the setting, not other characters. (Twister, Call of the Wild, Gravity)
- Character vs. Society/Culture: The character fights against the stigmas or customs of society (Philadelphia, Norma Jean, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)
- Character vs. Situation: When the character must respond to a situation or circumstance. (Castaway, Poseidon, The Hunger Games & The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
I tried to use more modern examples, but you can find examples of these plotlines as far back as classical Greek and Roman literature. And you may also realize that many stories include more than one plot (as most stories include subplots).
In the next few weeks I’m going to look at main plots and subplots of some of my favorite movies (as more people will have seen those movies than have read the books that I read) to see if I can identify how these classic storylines drive today’s most popular tales. I hope you’ll join me!
What’s your favorite plot?