Several researchers have attempted to categorize basic plot patterns in literature. William Foster-Harris thinks stories can be sorted 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.
What do upper elementary students need to know? Common Core provides nine literature standards for each grade level. Listed below are the ones specific to theme and plotting stories.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
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.
The purpose of these posts is not to classify all literature into seven basic plots. Instead, these posts will help students better understand 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 need throughout the school year. 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.
After students have studied the plot structures, have them complete the activities. The first high-interest activity includes identifying plots in advertisements. This post includes embedded YouTube videos for easy access. Handouts aid students in classifying plots.
The second is a sorting activity. Students read book and movie summaries printed on cards. They then sort the cards by plot structure. Again, handouts make this a low prep activity.
These activities are great for learning centers. Use them for individual morning reviews. They even make great small group activities.
Jump to the plot you are interested in using these links.
Handout for this PostI hope you have a fantastic year! Enjoy reading.