Basic Plot Patterns in Literature

Basic Plot Patterns in Literature

Several researchers have attempted to categorize basic plot patterns in literature. William Foster-Harris sorts stories into three basic patterns. Ronald B. Tabias theorizes 20 Master Plots. Georges Polti writes about The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. Kurt Vonnegut argues that all stories can be outlined into one basic shape. Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories outlines seven plots. 

So just how many basic plots are there? Everyone has a different opinion.

This video explains Christopher Booker’s ideas. He classifies stories into 7 groups. 

Booker's Seven Plot Structures

The Project

Posts in this series are based on the seven basic plots outlined by Christopher Booker. These include:

  • overcoming the monster – The hero conquers an evil force. Think Harry Potter or Shrek.
  • rags to riches – The poor main character gains money, power, or love and loses it. Think Cinderella.
  • the quest – The main character goes to a location to attain an object. Think Indian Jones.
  • voyage and return – The character goes to a new land, learns something, and goes home. Think The Hobbit or The Wizard of Oz.
  • comedy – This plot is light and humorous. The story ends “happily ever after.” Think Toy Story.
  • tragedy – This is opposite of the comedy. The protagonist is destroyed. Think Romeo and Juliet.
  • rebirth – The main character becomes a better person. Think Scrooge.

These posts will not classify all literature in seven basic plots but will aid students in comprehending plot structure.

Each post contains an organizer. Each explains one basic plot.

  • Students outline the plot.
  • Examples are given.
  • Students learn to identify some common themes.
  • Terms are defined.
  • Basic structures for specific genres are also included.
  • Discussion questions help students dig deeper.

The organizers are designed to form a booklet. This can be used as a reference as needed throughout the school year

The Handout

Plots in Literature - Organizers

This handout includes three things:

  1. links to each blog post in this series
  2. a cover page if you want students to turn their organizers into a booklet
  3. links to learn more.

Handout for this Post

Why should I teach basic plot patterns?

Teaching plot structures to elementary students is extremely important.

  1. Students can follow the flow and sequence of events in a story and establish connections between events by understanding plot structures. 
  2. They can analyze the story, identify critical elements such as conflict, climax, and resolution, and compare and contrast characters and settings. This enables them to comprehend the author’s message and themes, shaping the overall structure of a story. 
  3. Knowledge of plot structures can enhance writing skills, allowing students to structure their own stories and improve their writing abilities. 
  4. By learning about plot structures, students can promote critical thinking skills that are essential in all aspects of life as it requires them to analyze and make connections between events in the story.
  5. Teaching plot structures covers the following Common Core Literature Standards:  CCSS – RL.4.2,  RL.4.3, RL.4.5, RL.5.2, RL.5.3, RL.5.5, RL.6.2, RL.6.3. RL.6.5

Where do I begin?

Begin by grabbing this handout for this post. It contains the cover to turn the handouts into a booklet. The handout also includes links to learn more about basic plot structures. Clickable links to all related posts are provided. If you missed the link above, here it is again.

Get the printable here.

Jump to the plot you are interested in using these links.

Gay Miller

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