Basic Plot Structure – Rags to Riches

Basic Plot Structure – Rags to Riches

Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories outlines seven plots. One of these seven is Rags to Riches. In this plot, the main character gains power, wealth, or a mate. 

At the beginning of the story, the character is clearly at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This character is unhappy but deserves better. The character is then put into a better situation and everything appears to go well.

Something takes place that causes the character to almost lose what has been gained. The character must then overcome the crisis. Others may laugh at his efforts, yet the person persists. The character learns from going through the predicament.

Finally, the character gets the life he wished for. This may or may not be the life the character wanted at the beginning of the story.

Rags to Riches Mini Lesson with Organizers

Rags to Riches Project 

Students create a staggered flip organizer that explains Booker’s plot ‘Rags to Riches.’ The organizer also contains a page for students to list examples from literature or pop culture. Next students answer “Digging Deeper” questions. For this lesson, students discuss rags to riches themes. Finally, three outline pages provide practice.

Get the printable here.

Plot Description

Basic Plot Structure – Rags to Riches

Famous novelist, Charles Dickens, lived a rags-to-riches life. His father goes to prison for his debts after squandering the family money. This left Dickens to earn money for the family. When he was twelve, Dickens worked in a shoe polish factory. For a 10-hour day of labor, he earned six shillings a week. Dickens alternately worked and attended school as family finances allowed.

Dickens wrote about his life in many of his novels. Child laborers found their way into David CopperfieldOliver Twist, and Great Expectations. Upper elementary students can learn more about Charles Dickens in Mary Pope Osborne’s book – Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens.

Variants of ‘Rags to Riches’ stories may include:

  • enslavement – Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground RailroadSweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
  • struggling artist – The Noisy Paint Box
  • lone inventor – George Washington Carver: Teacher, Scientist, and Inventor

Rags to Riches Examples 


Cinderella is a classic example of the rags-to-riches plot. She starts off as a poor, mistreated servant but is able to achieve wealth and happiness when she marries the prince.


Aladdin is a street urchin who is able to achieve wealth and success by obtaining a magical lamp and winning the heart of Princess Jasmine.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Charlie Bucket is a poor boy who wins a golden ticket to tour Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Through his good nature and moral values, he ultimately inherits the factory from Willy Wonka, becoming a successful entrepreneur and gaining wealth.

The Ugly Duckling:

The Ugly Duckling starts off as an outcast and bullied duckling, but eventually transforms into a beautiful swan, achieving a higher social status.

Slumdog Millionaire:

Jamal Malik is a poor boy from the slums of Mumbai who competes on a game show and wins a large sum of money, thus achieving financial success.

David Copperfield:

David Copperfield is a young boy who faces numerous hardships and tragedies in his life but ultimately achieves success as a writer and gains wealth and social status.

The Prince and the Pauper:

The Prince and the Pauper is a story about a prince and a poor boy who switch places and ultimately learn valuable lessons about the differences between the rich and the poor.

A Knight’s Tale:

William Thatcher is a poor peasant who aspires to become a knight. Through a series of fortunate events and hard work, he is able to achieve his goal and become a successful jousting champion.


Stanley Yelnats is a poor, unlucky boy who is sent to a juvenile detention camp where he is forced to dig holes. Through his perseverance and bravery, he is able to uncover the truth about his family’s curse and ultimately gain wealth and social status.


Annie is an orphan who is able to escape her harsh life in the orphanage and ultimately gain a wealthy and loving family.

James and the Giant Peach:

James is a poor orphan who goes on a magical adventure inside a giant peach and ultimately gains a new family and a happier life.

Esperanza Rising:

Esperanza is a wealthy girl in Mexico who is forced to flee to California with her mother and become a migrant worker. Through her hard work and determination, she is able to achieve success and a new sense of perspective.

A Little Princess:

Sara Crewe is a wealthy girl who loses her fortune and is forced to become a servant. Through her good nature and resilience, she is able to regain her status and wealth.

Here is the link to the handout again.

Get the printable here.

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

Gay Miller

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