Definition of Plot for Creative Writers

Author Christopher Booker spent 34 years working on his book "The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories."  Booker's 2004 classic is a Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning. It lays out the seven storylines that comprise nearly all works of fiction, from the  Greek classics to modern-day pulp fiction.  Before exploring the seven basic plots you need to understand the five basic meta-plots that comprise works of fiction.

The 5 Stages of the Meta-Plot

The meta-plot begins with the anticipation stage, in which the hero is drawn to the adventure that lies ahead. This is followed by the dream stage, in the which the adventure begins and the hero experiences some success. During this stage, the hero has an illusion of invincibility. This stage is quickly followed by the frustration stage, in which the hero has his or her first confrontation with the enemy. At this point, the illusion of invincibility is lost. This stage worsens and morphs into the nightmare stage, which is the climax of the plot and this is where it looks as if all hope is lost. However, in the resolution state (the final stage) the hero overcomes his or her trials and tribulations and is victorious against all odds.

The Importance of Heros and the Heroines

With all stories, no matter how many characters may appear in the story, the real concern is with just one character: the hero or heroine.

It is he or she whose fate the reader will always identify, as the reader sees them gradually develop towards the state of self-realization that marks the ends of the story. Ultimately, it is in relation to this central figure that all others characters in a story take on significance. What each of the other characters represents in the novel is really only some aspect of the inner state of the hero or heroine.

The seven basic plots outlined below are the basics of all plot-writing. Many of the examples that follow will be familiar to you.

Overcoming the Monster: In this scenario, the protagonist set out to defeat an antagonistic force (most often an evil person or entity) which threatens the protagonist and/or the protagonist's homeland.

Examples:

Perseus, Theseus, Beowulf, Dracula, The War of the Worlds, Nicholas Nickleby, The Guns of Navarone, Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, the James Bond franchise, Star Wars, Halloween, Attack on Titan, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Shrek.

Rags to Riches: In this case, the poor protagonist acquires such things as power, wealth, and a mate, and then proceeds to lose it all. Ultimately they gain it all back upon evolving as a person.

Examples:

Cinderella, Aladdin, Jane Eyre, A Little Princess, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, The Prince and the Pauper, Brewsters's Millions.

The Quest: In the Quest, the protagonist (and some of their companions) set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, and along the way they face numerous obstacles and temptations.

Examples:

Iliad, The Pilgrim's Progress, King Solomon's Mines, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Land Before Time, the Indiana Jones franchise, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle.

Voyage and Return: In this scenario, the protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats posed to him or her, returns home having gained valuable experience.

Examples:

Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Orpheus, Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit, Brideshead Revisited, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Gone with the Wind, The Third Man, Apollo 13, Gulliver's Travels, Finding Nemo, Spirited Away, The Wizard of Oz.

Comedy: Comedy plots are filled with light and humorous characters and have a happy or cheerful ending. In this case, comedy is more than just humor because the central motif is the triumph over adversity, resulting in a happy conclusion. 

Examples:

A Midsummer Night's Dream,  Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Bridget Jones's Diary, Music and Lyrics, Sliding Doors, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mr. Bean

Tragedy: The protagonist in these stories is a hero with one major character flaw or makes a grave mistake which ultimately is their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally "good" character.

Examples: 

Macbeth, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Bonnie and Clyde, Jules et Jim, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Romei and Juliet, Death Note, Breaking Bad, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Hamlet.

Rebirth: During the course of these stories, and important event forces the main character in the story to amend their ways, which results in them becoming a better person.

Examples: 

The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Life Is a Dream, Despicable Me, How the Grinch Stole Christmas,