Friday, October 5, 2012

36 Plot Ideas for your Novel

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Looking for fresh plot ideas? Well... there probably aren't any. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. As I've said before, there are no new ideas, just fresh ways of writing them.

The book, Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti, gives thirty-six basic plots for all stories. According to Wikipedia, "The original French-language book was written in the 19th century. An English translation was published in 1916 and continues to be reprinted to this day."

This is really old and interesting information. I've listed Polti's plots below and given a brief description of each. I also tried to give a movie or book reference to help you get a visual example, but I wasn't always able to because some plots are more popular than others.

If you've got an idea for a story but are stuck on how to include a strong plot, perhaps these thirty-six plot ideas will inspire you.

1. Supplication: A persecutor, a supplicant, or power in authority who struggles to make a decision whether or not to do something. Usually, an unfortunate person appeals to an authority figure for help. The authority figure is the protagonist. Ex: The Rock; The Untouchables; Three Amigos.

2. Deliverance: The unfortunate, threatener, rescuer. Here the rescuer helps the unfortunate person without being asked. Ex: The Terminator; Speed.

3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance: An avenger, a criminal. This is your basic mystery or detective story. The protagonist is out to find the truth. Ex: Lethal Weapon; Die Hard; James Bond.

4. Vengeance for Kin Upon Kin: Avenging relative(s), a guilty relative(s), relative(s) of victim. Ex: The Lion King.

5. Pursuit: A punished person, a fugitive. The protagonist is the fugitive, often wrongfully accused. Ex: Les Miserables; The Fugitive.

6. Disaster: A vanquished power, a victorious enemy, or a messenger. The powerful are overthrown by the weak. Ex: Armageddon; Sydney White.

7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune: An unfortunate, a master, or a misfortune. Ex: Schindler’s List; The Color Purple.

8. Revolt: A tyrant, a conspirator. Ex: Swing Kids; The Matrix.

9. Daring Enterprise: A bold leader, an object to be won, an adversary to be beaten. Ex: Saving Private Ryan; Men in Black.

10. Abduction: An abductor, the abducted, a guardian. The protagonist can be the abducted or the abductor. Ex: Ransom; A Life Less Ordinary.

11. The Enigma: An interrogator, a seeker, a problem. The protagonist could be seeking a person or thing. Ex: Seven; National Treasure.

12. Obtaining: A solicitor and an adversary who is refusing, or an arbitrator and opposing parties. At what cost and by what means will the protagonist act in trying to obtain his goal? Ex: Green Eggs and Ham; Outbreak.

13. Enmity of Kin: A malevolent kinsman, a hated or a reciprocally hating kinsman. The closer the relationship, the greater the conflict that divides them, the greater the resulting hate. Example: Kramer vs. Kramer; Corky Romano.

14. Rivalry of Kin: The preferred kinsman, the rejected kinsman, the object of their rivalry. Ex: Legends of the Fall; A League of Their Own.

15. Murderous Adultery: Two adulterers, a betrayed spouse. Ex: Dangerous Liaisons; Diabolique.

16. Madness: A madman, a victim. Ex: The Shining; Psycho.

17. Fatal Imprudence: The imprudent or rash. The protagonist causes his own misfortune (or the misfortune of those he cares about) through his rash behavior, often to seek someone or something lost, or to settle his curiosity about something. Ex: Meet the Parents; Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

18. Involuntary Crimes of Love: A lover, a beloved, a revealer. The protagonist may fall in love with a relative, a relative’s spouse, a teacher/student, his employer, someone who is planning to rip him off but he doesn't know it, or maybe just an adulterous relationship. He may walk into the relationship willingly, knowing that it is wrong, or he may not know. Sometimes the reader may know the truth when the hero doesn't.

19. Slaying of Unrecognized Kinsman: The slayer, an unrecognized victim. The plot focuses on the protagonist planning to kill his kinsman without knowing his enemy is related to him.

20. Self-Sacrificing for an ideal: A hero, an ideal, or a thing sacrificed. Here the protagonist gives up everything for his ideal. Ex: The Messenger.

21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred: A hero, a kinsman, a person, or a thing sacrificed. Here the protagonist gives up everything for a kinsman. Ex: Cyrano de Bergerac; The Passion of the Christ.

22. All Sacrificed for a Passion: A lover, an object of fatal passion, a person, a thing sacrificed. The protagonist sacrifices everything for his passion. This could be an addiction, a lover, or money. Ex: Leaving Las Vegas.

23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones: A hero, a beloved victim, the necessity for sacrifice. The protagonist is forced by necessity to sacrifice a loved one.

24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior: A superior rival, an inferior rival, the object of rivalry. Ex: Rocky; Karate Kid.

25. Adultery: A deceived husband or wife, two adulterers. Ex: Bridges of Madison County.

26. Crimes of Love: The lover, the beloved. The protagonist commits a crime because of his love. Ex: Chinatown (incest), The Apostle (murder), Saving Grace (incest & murder).

27. Discovery of a Loved One’s Dishonor: A discoverer, the guilty one. The protagonist is caught in a sin toward their loved one or they catch their loved one in a dishonorable act. Shame is key. Ex: The novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

28. Obstacles to Love: Two lovers, an obstacle. Some great obstacle stands in the way of two lovers being together. Ex: Kate & Leopold; Ever After.

29. An Enemy Loved: A lover, the beloved enemy, the hater. The protagonist falls in love with an enemy. Ex: Twilight; Romeo and Juliet.

30. Ambition: An ambitious person, a thing coveted, an adversary. Ex: Jerry McGuire; That Thing You Do.

31. Conflict with a God: A mortal, an immortal. Most Greek myths focus on this plot. Ex: Hercules; Rosemary’s Baby, Bruce Almighty.

32. Mistaken Jealousy: A jealous one, an object of jealousy, a supposed accomplice, a cause or author of the mistake, a traitor. Ex: Othello; The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

33. Erroneous Judgment: a mistaken one, a victim of the mistake, a cause or author of the mistake, a guilty person. The protagonist may be falsely accused or accuse another without proof or be guilty and try to frame another. Ex: The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption.

34. Remorse: A culprit, a victim, the sin, an interrogator. Also false guilt.

35. Recovery of a Lost One: The seeker, the one found. The protagonist may find a lost loved one, a lost child. Ex: The Man in the Iron Mask, The Deep End of the Ocean.

36. Loss of Loved Ones: A kinsman slain, a kinsman spectator, an executioner. Ex: Love Story, Return to Me.

When you look at example 35, Recovery of a Lost One, you can see how different two stories c
an be even with the same basic plot. The Man in the Iron Mask is a renaissance story of a brother hiding his twin so that his rule could not be threatened. The Deep End of the Ocean is about a kidnapped child being found years later. With example 13, Enmity of Kin, Kramer v. Kramer is the story of a legal battle over child custody, whereas Corky Romano is a comedy about a cop going after his mob family.

So when you’re thinking of your plot, think of the characters you have already designed and your basic premise. Your plot doesn't need to match any of these examples to a T. These are simply starting points. Use them to spark ideas. You could base the plot around a single character or a group of characters. Maybe instead of murder, your character might plot the murder, then not go through with it. Or instead of family members, you could substitute best friends in some of the kinsmen examples. You could also combine some of these plot ideas into your story. The opportunities are only limited by your imagination.

Do you see the plot of your work in progress here? What is it?


  1. Really cool post, Jill! My plot is in under 8. :-)


  2. Thanks! This is helpful, as always :)

    I'm not sure where my plot might fit here...but then again, I'm not really sure where my plot is going yet. I'm still in the first few chapters. Doesn't worry me yet; I'll find it eventually :)

  3. mmmm, my plot seems to be in more of these categories, specifically: 5, 6, 8, 10, 36. I'm afraid this might make my plot chaotic. How should I go about this. Is it best to choose one of these plots and focus on it, pushing the rest a little to the background, or to just spread the focus over all of them and keep going the way I do.

    1. You might include any number of subplots in your story, but my guess is that one plot rises above the others as the plot your main character chases throughout the book. Do you think that's true?

    2. yes I think I agree. thanks...

  4. Love this list! Thanks, Jill!

    I've got a good mix of 28-31 in my current work. They kind of all work together to get the main character to where she needs to be by the end of the story.

  5. holy crow ... O_O

    1. okay so initial shock over xD I love lists! UGH :D
      here's mine:
      1rst story (in a series)= Involuntary Crimes of Love, Fatal Imprudence
      2nd story (of that same series)= Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune, Involuntary Crimes of Love, Fatal Imprudence

  6. I'd say mine includes... Enmity of Kin, Abduction, Obtaining... and who knows what else. :P

    Thanks so much! This is really great to know!

    By the way... I LOVE Redeeming Love and Francine Rivers!

  7. I'm not quite sure which mine is. If I had to guess I'd say. Obtaining, self-sacrificing for an ideal, or rivalry of kin

  8. So cool, Jill! Love it! Thanks for all of these ideas. I'm still figuring out which my novel Do you think it's possible to be a combo?

    1. Sure it is. Anything is possible, especially in fiction.

  9. Mine's probably most like Daring Enterprise, but of course, there's plenty of other stuff happening too.

  10. Mine is probably Recovery of a Lost One and Ambition, with some Abduction thrown in there. :)

    Thanks for the awesome list!

  11. This list is just totally awesome! I wish I could pick just one but as I am just done the first chapter to my WIP, I can't yet. I mean I know the basics to my plot and I am learning more about it every time I sit down and write but I need to get a bit farther into my story to really pin point one main thing if you know what I mean.
    By the way, that first chapter I mentioned was completed today and I have to thank the 100 4 100 for that. Seriously, I would have never gotten this far if it weren't for it! This might just be me but the biggest problem I have when it comes to writing is actually finding the time to write. I mean I have the time but unless I have more than an hour, I have always thought it wasn't worth it. That I wouldn't actually get anything written in such a "short time." The 100 4 100 has forced me to write though and made me realize that you truly can get a lot done in a mere hour! So thank you so much for getting me off my lazy backside, sitting me back down, and forcing me to write! <3

  12. I absolutely loved this post! It will be amazing for future reference when I come up with another idea and suddenly decide I want to start actually PLOTTING my stories. I think my novel mostly goes with 4, 7, 8, 27, and 34.

  13. Mine contains Loss of Loved Ones, Sacrificing for an Ideal, though I'm not sure I'm interpreting that exactly right. I'm intrigued by An Enemy Loved, but not where it's the families that hate each other, like in Romeo and Juliet, but the two main characters really hate each other. I suppose that's kind of been done in Pride and Prejudice, but I have to think about that.

  14. Wauw, great list Jill. Ambition is probably the biggest one in my WIP, though I always knew obstacle to love was nudging there a little as well as one of the side plots, but now going through this list I am realising that 'self-sacrifying for an ideal' might even be the better description around.

    Really helpful this, thank you!

  15. Love it! This is really helpful! Thanks so much!

  16. Glad the list has been helpful, everyone! The thanks goes to Georges Polti for his fabulous list. I just "shared" it with you. ;-)

  17. "Green Eggs and Ham" made me laugh. I'm not really sure about my novel yet, as I only have a basic idea. Come the middle of November, though, I'm sure I'll have a better idea.

  18. i'm eleven and i realy love writing so i was thinking of writing a novel when i stumbled over this amazing article. i'm basically combining tons of ideas together in my plot so i happen to have alot of these attention grabbers in my story yet some others did change my way of thinking and all thanks goes to you jill <3

  19. I am in love with your perspective! This is so fantastic - Thanks for taking the time to post this :)

  20. I'm 14 years old and I love writing, and I wanted to do something along the lines of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Mortal Instruments series, but without stealing any of their ideas. Thoughts please?

    1. Hello!

      I'm same age as you and this is what I like to do when thinking to come up of my own stories. Think about the problems of this world today, overpopulation, war, disease, famine, poverty etc. The worlds of Hunger Games and Divergent are dystopias which means a futuristic dysfunctional society (You would know that though). Base your world around a problem in the world today that isn't an issue that The Hunger Games or the Divergent discuss.

      After you have done this use one of these plot lines and build from there. A great way of planing novels is the 'Snowflake Method'.

      Hope this helps!

  21. I love these ideas, they help quite a bit! Unfortunately, though, I have an extremely overzealous mind and, instead of taking the time to plan out the ideas I've come up with, I dive in and try to create worlds. In the end, most times, I only get to the 7th or 8th chapter with the books I write and stop because I'm not sure about the conflict or the protagonist characters. Do you have any advise on how to get past this?

    1. This happens to me all the time! I'm still trying to figure out how to fix my overexcitement when it comes to write!

    2. I have that same problem sometimes!! One thing I usually do is write out the chapter of action (whatever conflict) and save it for later in the book. Then I usually write up to that conflict, sometimes edit the existing chapter, and BAM, a plot is created up to that chapter.

  22. Mine is more on the Conflict with a God. Though it would really help me if you suggest any ideas at all that can help me.. Thanks

  23. This is one of the most helpful things I have ever found on the internet. I've always loved to write, but I've never been able to finish anything longer than a short story because I'll realize my entire plot is cliché and/or boring and scrap it. I just realized how much I miss writing, but I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. Now I know, so thank you!

    1. Same! Was really helpful.

  24. I think I'll do a futuristic story that falls under "An Enemy Loved". A soldier of the Special Forces is the sole survivor of a failed crusade against another planet, and the enemy's leader takes him under her wing, training and providing for him, so that he can become their champion, all the while he still has contact with Earth.

  25. I'm using the plots of classic books like Romeo and Juliet, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables to help put my story together

  26. I am trying to combine plots 31, 16, 8 and 11 all at the same time (sort of)! It's fun, but challenging. Thanks for the great list!

  27. A mish-mash between 9, 17, and 30. Epic Fantasy. High Fantasy. Science Fantasy. Fantasy in a sci-fi setting.

  28. Thanks! I loved 4, 5, 19, and 34. Those were amazing!!!