The Seven Plot Lines That Form The Basis Of A Creative Writing Process

Posted at 17:33pm on 18th December 2008

I began this series by saying that, according to tradition, there are only seven basic plots which form the basis of all the stories ever told or written. They are:

  1. Rags to Riches
  2. Overcoming the Monster
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

We've already looked at the first three, and discovered that some story plots are a combination of two or more of the above. Today, because they're pretty self-explanatory, I'm going to touch, only briefly, on Comedy and Tragedy.


Writing a novel and getting a readership has never been an easy matter. Dickens attracted his followers by serialising his earlier works; Shakespeare by being a playwright. And he, surely, above all writers, was the master of Tragedy and Comedy? Of the tragedies, Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet are among the better known. Even now I can quote, from my schooldays, 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, I come to bury Caesar not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones'; and the treachery of those words sends a shiver down my spine.


And who could fail to weep at the ill-fated love of history's best-loved lovers kept apart by feuding families and ultimately by misunderstanding and death? There seems to be something deep within the human psyche that is moved beyond measure by unrequited or unfulfilled love. When love is thwarted by wholly avoidable means, our sense of sorrow and outrage are augmented. So, with Romeo, who, had he realized that Juliet merely slept, would never have taken his own life, we grieve for the randomness and stupidity of happenstance.

In modern times, Erich Segal's novel and the subsequent, 1970's film, Love Story became the iconic love tragedy of our era. Starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw, it tells the story of a couple of university students from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds. Here again it is not only familial culture that is in force, but illness and death that eventually parts the young lovers. Father-son love eventually triumphs, and the immortal line: Love means never having to say you're sorry, is coined.


Shakespeare's comedies are more numerous than his tragedies and include The Taming Of The Shrew; A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor. This type of plot needs no explanation, except to say that in my view comedy - good comedy - is probably the hardest for most of us to achieve.

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We'll take a look at the final two of the Seven Story Plots: Voyage and Return, and Rebirth

Your Comments:

9th May 2012
at 2:36pm
I need to knwo how to do a creative plot line for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is there anyway to at least teach me make a creative plot line??? thanks
Mel Menziesk
18th May 2012
at 7:03am
Aria, I'm so sorry. I've been looking everywhere for an article I feel sure I wrote (but maybe it was for a workshop I led) and I can't find it anywhere. If/when I find something to help you, I'll let you know.

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