Ming the Mechanic:
The 36 plot lines

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The 36 plot lines2004-08-24 22:34
9 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

From Jerry Michalski:
Today at Tom Munnecke's GoodApples workshop in NYC, our lively moderator Izzy Gesell mentioned in passing the thirty-some fundamental plot lines. I couldn't help asking Google, which swiftly steered me to The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti, and The 36 Plots site by Loren Miller, which lists them all.
And here they are:
  1. Supplication - Persecutor, Suppliant, a Power in Authority
  2. Deliverance - Unfortunates, Threatener, Rescuer
  3. Revenge - Avenger, Criminal
  4. Vengeance by Family upon Family - Avenging Kinsman, Guilty Kinsman, Relative
  5. Pursuit - Fugitive from Punishment, Pursuer
  6. Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune - Unfortunates, Master or Unlucky Person
  7. Disaster - Vanquished Power, Victorious Power or Messenger
  8. Revolt - Tyrant, Conspirator(s)
  9. Daring Enterprise - Bold Leader, Goal, Adversary
  10. Abduction - Abductor, Abducted, Guardian
  11. Enigma - Interrogator, Seeker, Problem
  12. Obtaining - Two or more Opposing Parties, Object, maybe an Arbitrator
  13. Familial Hatred - Two Family Members who hate each other
  14. Familial Rivalry - Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kinsman, Object
  15. Murderous Adultery - Two Adulterers, the Betrayed
  16. Madness - Madman, Victim
  17. Fatal Imprudence - Imprudent person, Victim or lost object
  18. Involuntary Crimes of Love - Lover, Beloved, Revealer
  19. Kinsman Kills Unrecognised Kinsman - Killer, Unrecognised Victim, Revealer
  20. Self Sacrifice for an Ideal - Hero, Ideal, Person or Thing Sacrificed
  21. Self Sacrifice for Kindred - Hero, Kinsman, Person or Thing Sacrificed
  22. All Sacrificed for Passion - Lover, Object of Passion, Person or Thing Sacrificed
  23. Sacrifice of Loved Ones - Hero, Beloved Victim, Need for Sacrifice
  24. Rivalry Between Superior and Inferior - Superior, Inferior, Object
  25. Adultery - Deceived Spouse, Two Adulterers
  26. Crimes of Love - Lover, Beloved, theme of Dissolution
  27. Discovery of Dishonor of a Loved One - Discoverer, Guilty One
  28. Obstacles to Love - Two Lovers, Obstacle
  29. An Enemy Loved - Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater
  30. Ambition - An Ambitious Person, Coveted Thing, Adversary
  31. Conflict with a God - Mortal, Immortal
  32. Mistaken Jealousy - Jealous One, Object of Jealousy, Supposed Accomplice, Author of Mistake
  33. Faulty Judgment - Mistaken One, Victim of Mistake, Author of Mistake, Guilty Person
  34. Remorse - Culprit, Victim, Interrogator
  35. Recovery of a Lost One - Seeker, One Found
  36. Loss of Loved Ones - Kinsman Slain, Kinsman Witness, Executioner
That's fun. Well, not exactly fun for the characters in those plots, but presumably, like most good stories, things get worked out in the end. And good stories often involve some kind of big problem or wrong that, against significant odds, gets worked out or reversed or balanced out along the way. An endless number of novels and screen plays and games could me made from those models. One might even imagine that it would be possible to automatically create reasonably gripping stories from such a basis. Oh, takes other elements too of course. But life probably consists of more archetypes and archetypical scenarios than we'd usually be willing to admit.

I also get to think of the power of metaphors, and of a great book, which I unfortunately don't remember the details of right now, and I'm away from my library. As a therapeutic tool, stories and metaphors can be very powerful. See, we all have an innate sense of how good stories are supposed to progress. We can not always express it, but we recognize it when we're presented with it. There are many kinds of stories, but each one has a certain kind of fundamental structure. Now, think of somebody who has a personal problem that seems unsolvable to them, and which is resistant to most direct attempts of helping them change it. Imagine that a wise and resourceful observer recognizes the structure of their problem, and presents them with a story. A story which happens to have the very same fundamental structure as their problem, but very different content, and a story which happens to get resolved in the end, like good stories do. If the person can get sufficiently involved in that story, following along with it, noticing that the difficult situations get resolved, something magical can happen. Without consciously noticing what happened, they might suddenly find that from the depths of their subconscious they suddenly also have the resources for resolving their own particular situation. The structure of a story from a very different setting might transfer to their particular setting, despite any "good" reason that it shouldn't. There's just something compelling about stories that get finished.

Knowing the archetypical structure of many fundamental human scenarios can thus be a tool for much more than just writing entertaining stories. I'm sure there are many more than 36, though. And some of them are more fun.


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9 comments

24 Aug 2004 @ 23:57 by swanny : I like the picture
Provocative pic ming thanks
I thought it may be Camelot
but the swans.... rather intriqueing  



25 Aug 2004 @ 02:07 by ov : Plot lines
"See, we all have an innate sense of how good stories are supposed to progress."

Yup, and it has taken us thousands of years of evolution to perfect this ability. It's an art form and the computer AI still hasn't figured it out to the best of my knowledge. There is also the possibility that the ability to tell a tale and create a story is an asset unique to Earth; if so it could be our biggest export commodity.

I run across this site by James Bonnet Stealing Fire From the Gods - A Dynamic New Story Model for Writers and Filmmakers. I will be checking into this further and writing a few articles on it.  



25 Aug 2004 @ 15:51 by Sam Jones @68.40.13.140 : Propp
Reminds me of Vladimir's Propp's 31 Functions of the Folk Tale:

1. A member of a family leaves home.
2. An interdiction is addressed to the hero.
3. The interdiction is violated.
4. The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance.
5. The villain gains information about the victim.
6. The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim's belongings.
7. Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy.
8. Villain causes harm/injury to family member. Alternatively, a member of family lacks something or desires something.
9. Misfortune or lack is made known.
10. Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action.
11. Hero leaves home.
12. Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor).
13. Hero reacts to actions of future donor.
14. Hero acquires use of a magical agent.
15. Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search.
16. Hero and villain join in direct combat.
17. Hero is branded.
18. Villain is defeated.
19. Initial misfortune or lack is resolved.
20. Hero returns
21. Hero is pursued.
22. Hero is rescued from pursuit.
23. Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country.
24. False hero presents unfounded claims.
25. Difficult task proposed to the hero.
26. Task is resolved.
27. Hero is recognised.
28. False hero or villain is exposed.
29. Hero is given a new appearance.
30. Villain is punished.
31. Hero marries and ascends the throne.

Supposedly, while no single tale consists of all these elements, all tales consist of some of these elements in this order.  



28 Aug 2004 @ 14:25 by EdKnight @151.198.156.253 : Plots & Whatnots
There's an old computer program called "Plotto" and a newer one called "Dramatica" that supposedly generate stories after you plug in some elements. I've had some genuine fun with Dramatica by putting in the most absurd things I could think of into the required blanks for the program to do its work. While it was personally amusing, the stuff it gives me is not quite ready for around the campfire telling let alone the bookrack. Still fun though.
I read an article by Kurt Vonnegut who reportedly really hates this innovation. He believed story simply comes from someone wanting something, & goes on to tell about a writing class he once taught. His favorite story that one of his students wrote was about a nun getting some string caught between her teeth . (This can be found under the plot category "hero struggles valiantly against pesky string." )
I enjoy bopping into [link]
storytelling articles galore.  



6 Sep 2004 @ 20:34 by Gunter @24.126.121.37 : metaphores and parables
There is another element of passing information in for of metaphores or parables. There must be otherwise why would have the two master of that genre used that technique - jesus and gautamo.
Stories just survive time a lot better than dry do-this-then-do-that or other metaphysical stuff. Telling stories and passing them on always changes the story bu t it appears that even if the plot and characters are changed over time, the chances for the gist to survive seems bigger.  



24 Nov 2005 @ 01:20 by jonah @203.206.115.209 : the gist is the leaven that feeds
36 of 144,000 sorry 72 in just 2 letters ,,we can do better ,,come make thus mountain smooth ,complete as a test of our grace ,as people of the sovreighs united nation, that god do what god will, but that we of both god and man discover the 144.ooo sins or saint ,ergo ego of infinite ergo the only infinite ergo noted of unique clear sign ,reason ,cause,thoughtand especially evil or good deed ,its not a jud meant its recognizinf what truth is ,god is the only truth..this could be simplified into the 12 times 12,000 .even 120 times 120o.
..o oh oo ho ho ho retire ,ican get negative thought ,the ho is but an undeniable proof to me to monitor over every move of this flesh,this fleshy corps god give me for free , but is quite flawed as you can see..hope to try again just you try again the seeds i sow here ...i did not create .ive stolen from every teacher truth..deniable truth but good truth of time and survival..this flesh could never concieve 0f gods will or that god needs no man ,but that man become one by one man by man into awarness of their spiritual pre life reasons ,the service this is is for the god ,dont flatter help ,dont fear act dont destroy,rebuild ,you begged the god head to be born to your position to heal ,to feed ,but man forget but that man remember soon ..lest god forget  



30 Nov 2005 @ 06:16 by jonah @203.206.115.209 : god not forgot
ringa,ring ross..i51
means..i51=ana=1,5,1.=151=i51=i am..we=me
,me=i am==lamb
gods name alfa..good as embodied
in a son.say in the body of the
christ
negative alfa...bad as blamed upon d
evil..de=vile
de.......veil
de.......eve/evil
the harlot who decieved her goddess
she made adam that he ,
as created ..equal ..recegnize the ammazing
greatnessd the god had him begotten
adam scratched .forgive me
father..and said with erthat contented burp
lord why cannot i have mate
god pure was hoorified
and adam was knoked out
when he woke up ..
he had his woman
today
the scamists
know its his sister
well any way thats the first of the seals
was that too hard ya barestuward  



7 Sep 2010 @ 02:12 by samanthemofthesun @69.134.211.78 : well..
For my two cents, I believe these can be condensed into 16. Really, there are only 16 plot lines.  


5 Mar 2011 @ 21:27 by unrecognized @50.38.14.208 : total agreement
my sister tried to tell me there are 17. as proof against her, i made a list of at least 18 movie/book plot lines that are all different, even at their very basic. she got made and hid all the cookies from me, but i could tell she knew i was right.  


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2010-07-14 13:35: Consciousness of Pattern
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2009-10-29 14:03: Convergent or Divergent
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2007-03-15 01:06: Structural holes
2007-02-27 23:50: Leverage
2007-02-24 14:13: Wikipatterns



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