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The Plot in Fiction Writing

Updated on June 17, 2013
Live Theatre
Live Theatre

The Plot in Fiction Writing

By Tony DeLorger © 2011

In writing any story, the ‘Plot’ is the primary vehicle for your characters, the course of their journey, whatever that may be. What that journey is, how it moves and what twists and turns evolve, fundamentally keeps the reader interested and wanting to know what will happen next. Some plots can be complex and convoluted such as in ‘murder mysteries’, keeping you guessing and leaving resolution right until the end. Other plots are more straightforward but fast paced, leaving the reader’s imagination to carry the story. Other times it is the crafted characters themselves that enthral the reader, evoking empathy and rooting for the character to overcome adversity.

Whatever plot you choose to write there are seven basic ‘Plot Archetypes’ from which all stories are derived. Whether you’re writing a book, a play or a screenplay, the plot can be broken down to these seven models. Knowing them and using them can help you in your own journey of storytelling.

The Seven Plot Archetypes:

1/ The Quest- This model is based on the protagonist or hero striving to meet a highly important and distant goal. They cannot rest until this task is completed and will meet many obstacles, trying to stop this achievement. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a perfect example of this model.

2/ Voyage and Return- Like the Quest, this model is based on a journey. Here the protagonist is transported to another world and back. The journey reveals to the hero a greater understanding about himself and his world. ‘Back to the Future and Alice in Wonderland’ are good examples of this model.

3/ Comedy- This archetype is not as we know comedy today. Aristotle defined ‘comedy’ as showing people to be worse than they are and ‘tragedy’ showing people as greater than they are. This model sees characters thrown into darkness and confusion and resolution coming only after they have played out these restricting factors to extremes. ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is an example.

4/ Rebirth- In this type the hero is often cast under a spell, either by his own action or by an outside force. Liberation can only be achieved by the action of positive forces. The redemption of love is often that force. In this archetype the imprisonment is sometimes created from within the protagonist himself.

5/ Overcoming the Monster- In this model the hero must overcome an evil creature, person or entity that has exerted an evil destructive force over a place or people. ‘Jaws and Dracula’ are good examples.

6/ Rags to Riches- Here the hero is taken from nothing to greatness, wealth, status etc. Unwittingly he or she loses everything and must then defeat a foe of some kind to return to wealth or whatever. ‘Cinderella and Aladdin’ are good examples.

7/ Tragedy- According to Aristotle in tragedy, the hero of great status unwitting brings about his or her own downfall. This is meant to evoke pity and fear from the audience and ends in a catharsis. Examples are ‘Hamlet and Macbeth.’

Further to these seven types are the six elements of drama penned by Aristotle the father of Greek theatre. Even though they were written and used thousands of years ago they still apply today. A quick summary follows.

1/ Character- You story will be told through the trials and tribulations of your characters, so it is important that they are watchable and believable. Whether evil or good they must be compelling and hold interest.

2/ Plot- What happens to your characters must be watchable (or readable) so lots of action and pace are important to hold the audience (reader’s) attention.

3/ Theme- Whatever the plot is about it is important to have an underlying theme that should manifest in every aspect of the writing.

4/ Language- The spoken word is paramount to each character in your story. How do they speak, distinguish themselves from one another. Do they have an accent, a dialect, or a certain tone or texture? These aspects can individualise your character and add to their authenticity.

5/ Spectacle- Whether it is a play, film or book, spectacle is compelling and can both be visual or imaginative. Explosions magic or simply dance or elaborate costumes can bring a script to life.

6/ Combining the Elements- The most effective parts of a script are often combinations of all these elements. So don’t be afraid to experiment and transform your writing.

These definitions and elements are just as relevant today as they were when first written. Once learned this information will give you far more depth and understanding of the art of fiction writing regardless of genre. Have fun with it.


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    • Kim Lynn profile image

      Kim Lynn 7 years ago

      Very informative hub! It reminded me of some areas I need to improve.


    • Mark Ewbie profile image

      Mark Ewbie 7 years ago from Euroland

      Useful list of ideas here whether writing a serious piece of fiction, or 'just' a web page. Although a page is considerably shorter, if its a creative piece it can contain a number of these 'journey' elements. It's all writing - imo.