Devious Plots part 4: Plot store!

 This is part of a six-part series on plot. You can find the other parts here:
~Devious Plots, part 1: If Stephan King doesn't do it, why should I?
~Devious Plots, part 2: What is this "plot" you speak of?
~Devious Plots, part 3: Don't put the toilet in the living room
~Devious Plots, part 5: More plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 6: Plot store, final sale!

In my last post, we talked about the patterns that people like to live in and how that can translate to plot. Now we're going to talk about actual specific patterns that have been plots throughout the ages.

There are a lot of ways to classify these patterns, but for this plot store, I chose the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

I like these because they're defined not just by what happens, but by who is involved. And though I'm giving examples of stories where these are the overarching plot, these situations can also be mix-and-matched.

(There were a few I couldn't think of modern examples for. Feel free to chime in on the comment thread if you can think of any!)

Need a plot? Don't know what you've just written? Come on down!


1. Supplication

This situation requires a  Persecutor, a Supplicant, and a Power in Authority whose decision is in doubt.

Summary and Examples: The Supplicant is chased, harmed or otherwise threatened by the Persecutor and begs for help from the Power in Authority. I mentioned to my husband that this situation is rarely used by itself now because it's too simple for modern taste. His response?

"Are you kidding? This is pretty much the plot of every Law and Order ever aired."

And you all thought I was the smart one. *grin*

2. Deliverance

This situation requires an Unfortunate, a Threatener, and a Rescuer.

Summary and Examples: 

The Unfortunate is threatened in some way by the Threatener and is saved by the Rescuer. Think of fairy tales like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and movies like Witness or The Bodyguard.

3. Crime pursued by vengeance

This situation requires an Avenger and a Criminal.

Summary and Examples: 

The Avenger wreaks vengeance on the Criminal for past crimes.This is different from the Pursuit situation below, because it specifically involves a personal vendetta and not just punishment.
Les Misérables is probably the most famous example of this plot.

4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred

This situation requires an Avenging Kinsman, a Guilty Kinsman, a Victim, or some remembrance of the Victim and a Relative of both.

Summary and Examples:

One family member, the Guilty Kinsman, harms another (the Victim). They are punished for this serious transgression by an Avenging Kinsman. It's an all-in-the-family scenario where every major player is related to each other by marriage or blood.  This one is a lot more common in Greek/Roman tragedies, and at the moment  I can't think of any modern stories that use it.

5. Pursuit

This situation requires Punishment and a Fugitive.

Summary and Examples: 

A Fugitive is pursued, caught and Punished for some miscreant act. In modern stories, as in a lot of police procedural and suspense novels, this punishment is to be arrested or killed in the final fight. One way to twist this plot is to have the Fugitive actually be innocent, as in the (appropriately titled) movie, The Fugitive.

6. Disaster

This situation requires a Vanquished Power, a Victorious Enemy and/or a Messenger.

Summary and Examples: A calamitous event occurs. A kingdom is overthrown, someone abandons their family, etc. Sometimes Nature is the Victorious Enemy. The movie Dante's Peak is a good example of this because even though the main characters survive the volcanic eruption, the town is destroyed. This is also an excellent situation to use as the starting point for a story.

7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune

This situation requires an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune.

Summary and Examples:

The innocent Unfortunate is harmed by accidental Misfortune or by a deliberate Master who should know better. This is another situation more likely to be used in conjunction with others, especially ones involving vengeance.

8. Revolt

This situation requires a Tyrant and a Conspirator.

Summary and Examples:

The Conspirator leads or contributes to a revolt against an oppressive Tyrant. Braveheart is a perfect example of this plot, as are Robin Hood, Gladiator and many others.

9. Daring enterprise

This situation requires a Bold leader, an Object and an Adversary.

Summary and Examples: The Leader (alone or in a group) seeks the Object, and is opposed by the Adversary. This is a VERY popular one for adventure and caper movies. Think Indiana Jones, Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, etc.

10. Abduction

This situation requires an Abductor, the Abducted and the Guardian.

Summary and Examples:

The Abducted person is taken by the Abductor. The Abducted may be rescued by a Guardian. Again a popular situation for thriller/suspense movies like Man on Fire. This is similar to the Deliverance situation above, but involves specifically abduction instead of just threat.

11. The Enigma

This situation requires an Interrogator (adversary), a Seeker and a Problem.

Summary and Examples: The Interrogator poses a Problem which the Seeker must solve. This is the classic plot for most mysteries. In murder mysteries, it differs from Pursuit because the Seeker does not actually know who the criminal is until the last minute.  The Thomas Crown Affair is an excellent example of this plot.

12. Obtaining

This situation can go two ways. Either it involves a Solicitor and an Adversary who is refusing and/or it has an Arbitrator and Opposing Parties.

Summary and Examples:

A Solicitor requests something of the Adversary, who refuses to cooperate. Or, there are Opposing Parties who cannot reach agreement and so their dispute is resolved by the Arbitrator. 

The movie Erin Brockovich uses both version of this pattern, as first the injured townspeople (and their lawyers) request a settlement from the big company. When that is refused, the case goes to court, or the Arbitrator.

Wow, I was going to try to do half of the Thirty-Six Situations, but it made the blog post WAY too long. So instead I'm going to to stop here and do three plot store posts instead of two.

What do you think of these situations? Can you come up with any examples I missed?


  1. Hi, I came over from Jans blog and really enjoyed this post, now I just have to figure out which situation I've written!

  2. Wow! I can't believe how many you've thought of. And 24 to go. I'm impressed.

  3. Whoo hoo! This plot stuff is coming at the perfect time for me. Thanks, Miriam!

  4. Words- Welcome to the blog! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. If you can't find your situation here, check back. I still have 24 to go!

    Natalie- I wish I could take credit for them, but they were actually originated in the late 1800s by a guy named Georges Polti. He wrote a book called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. I think it's still in print!

    PJ- Yah! You're welcome! Plus it's fun to look at the ancient Greek myths and tragedies to see which ones they are. :)

  5. The kindred violence often shows up in mafia stories - mob families where each member is considered kindred even though they may or may not be blood related: i.e. The Sopranos, We Own The Night, etc.

    Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune is best when combined with another avenue as demonstrated in shows like Criminal Minds, but it has been popularized on its own in movies like Saw or Hostel.

  6. And by kindred violence, I mean vengeance.

  7. And while I'm at it... It should be noted that Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred is frequently used in Chinese films - a great example would be Curse of the Golden Flower.

  8. Wow Nic, these are all awesome examples! Thank you. :)

  9. Holy smoke Miriam, this is awesome. Thanks for all your hard work putting it together!

  10. I'm not listed above, but I'm sure I will be coming up in the next two post. Very excellent work.
    Thanks, Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  11. Terry- You're welcome! It was fun!

    N.R.- Let us know when you find yours! Or if you don't. I'd love to know if there are any missing from the list. :)

  12. Never could get into these (have them collected in Story Structure Architect). I look at one of the summaries and feel the spark of life just wink out. That being said, they seem like such good tools! Maybe it is just like using an outline, you have to keep hammering away at it, and eventually you realize how helpful it is to your writing.


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