How to Plot a Novel: An Encyclopedia of Every Literary Plot, Ever

“How many plots are there in fiction? Millions, two, or 36, depending on whom you ask. There’s William Wallace Cook’s chart-crazy Plotto, first published in 1928; there’s crisp guides like Christopher Booker’s The Basic Seven Plots and Ronald B. Tobias’s 20 Master Plots; there’s even a couple of computer programs — many, over centuries, have tried to count the ways to tell a story. With a little help from those, here is a far-from-comprehensive encyclopedia of every archetypal plot we know.


Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy; The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene; Little Children, by Tom Perrotta.
A perennial plot device that has survived the weakening of social taboos. What once caused shame and suicide now often ends in reconciliation. (see also: Forbidden Love.)

Adventure, Allegorical
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis; The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov.
The current is closer to the surface in stories rife with symbolism, though in modern times it tends to be less on the nose.

Adventure, Natural
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne; The Sea-Wolf, by Jack London.
A usually itinerant story in which action is the prime directive, even if deeper currents run below. (see also: Quest.)

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