Proofreading Tips - Plots (and some dates)

Plots (and some dates)
Now and then a writer decides to embed a future date into their work. In 1949 George Orwell looked towards Nineteen Eighty-Four. The first Back to the Future film aimed for 21 October 2015, and in his 1985 novel, Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut uses 9 May 2016 for a pivotal plot point. 

So to mark that date’s passing I’d like to share a video of curmudgeonly Kurt explaining the shape of stories…

 …and then share a few more lists of plots for you to consider in constructing your work in progress. 

 In descending order … 

There are The 36 Dramatic Situations according to Georges Polti, in his 19th century analysis of Greek myths. Some of his thirty-six have a dozen or more sub-situations. Phew. Includes Slaying of a Kinsmen Unrecognised and Murderous Adultery (you know, good ol’ Greek myths). 

20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B Tobias. These are Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, Rivalry, Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension and Descension. (Love that ‘Wretched Excess, but maybe not for a picture book?) 

In his book on screen writing, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s 10 movie plots are: Monster in the House, Out of the Bottle, Whydunit, Golden Fleece, Rites of Passage, Institutionalised, Superhero, Buddy Love, Dude with a Problem, and the Fool Triumphant. 

A discussion in the Guardian’s Notes & Queries column started with 7 plots according to the Irish playwright Denis Johnston, expanded to 8 by his son Rory Johnston and then Robert Blake identified 9: Cinderella, Achilles, Faust, Tristan, Circe, Romeo & Juliet, Orpheus, The Hero Who Cannot Be Kept Down plus The Homeless Loner. (and they are all there in the film Casablanca, apparently). 

Then there is Christopher Booker’s hefty tome from 2004, The 7 Basic Plots: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. And he co-founded Private Eye (that might come in useful in a pub quiz sometime).

Finally, The Reduced Shakespeare Company show Completely Hollywood gets the number of plots down to 3: Boy Meets Girl, Fish Out of Water, and The Quest. 

I hope you’ve been intrigued by or reminded of the range of recognised plots. You may be inspired to apply a little research to your work in progress’s structure and where it fits above. More fun for that editing stage, to accompany checking your spelling and grammar...

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for national educational organisations, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).


  1. Great love it especially number 3!

  2. Me too Dennis - great post Catriona!

  3. So useful to have all in one place- have just ordered Save the Cat!

  4. There usually stands more of the possible values which are even said to be important and will favorably help them to ease up their understanding.


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