Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Welcome to our newest series! For this series, we’ll be talking about the seven most common plot archetypes, how to write them, and examples in which they’re employed. So what are the seven basic plot archetypes?
(This blog post will be updated as posts in the series go out to include links for each post.)
This is the most basic of the plots in that it’s only about good versus evil—it will always be good versus bad, not the nuanced plots that involve antiheroes and villains who still manage to do some good. What is entailed in the plot is exactly what it says in its name: you have to overcome the monster. This could be a literal monster, or this could be a self-journey of overcoming the “monster” of addiction or another ailment of sorts. You’ll find this plot spread throughout many forms of media: epics like Beowulf, Marvel comics and MCU.
The quest and the voyage and return plot archetypes are pretty similar. In fact, they’re so similar that the only difference is that the hero returns in the voyage and return. So what goes into these two? Well, in a quest plot, your hero is called away from home in order to accomplish a goal, which can be anything from finding a person, place, or thing to even destroying something. (Lookin’ to you, Frodo.) In the quest, the hero must always be successful. If they fail, then it’s not a true quest plot. In a voyage and return, they also do this, but they go home at the end of it, and they don’t always have to be successful in their goal. (Keeping it in the Baggins family, good ol’ Bilbo fits the bill for this one.)
This is a plot I think young women are most familiar with thanks to Disney with their princess movies and other purveyors of fairy tales. It says what it is right in the name—the protagonist in the story starts out down on their luck or in some position that requires them to turn their eyes toward something better and achieve their goal by the end of it. They’ll be so close to their goal by the midpoint, only to lose it because they haven’t yet earned it. They then spend the rest of the plot truly earning the fortune that they strive for. This is such a popular plot in children’s stories that you’ll find them in stories like Cinderella, Aladdin, and Pride and Prejudice.
Comedy is the simplest to explain and the hardest to get right. The comedy archetype is, in essence, a series of unfortunate events in which there’s miscommunication, secret-keeping, and confusion for your protagonist, which prevents the protagonist from reaching their goal with ease. These plot types are laced with humor, which is why it’s so difficult to get right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that these stories can’t have some sort of drama or depth to them. You can find these types of plots in plays like The Importance of Being Earnest and movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire.
Unlike a comedy, a tragedy is a series of bad decisions that don’t end up having a funny, happy ending. It ends, well, in tragedy. There are no happy endings for this type of plot, especially for the protagonist. This might sound a little sad, and it is, but our protagonists in tragedies usually aren’t truly heroes like we would see in our other plot archetypes. They’re tragic heroes who do not have to be entirely good or evil, but they tend to fall further into the evil side than they do good. You can find these types of plots in stories like King Lear and Madame Bovary.