Yep you read that right! 7.5 Plot Archetypes! I’ve heard some people say there are 9 or 12 archetypes, but traditionally there are 7. I did read one article that proposed 9 and I kinda agree with one addition. Read, skim, or scroll down to see the one I’m talking about.
* A complete list of all the book are at the bottom of this post.
Overcoming the Monster-
Overcoming the monster is a versatile plot. It could be the protagonist against a literal monster, against society, a powerful group of people, or a murdering monster.
Live in Infamy is a what if alternate reality. What if the Axis Powers won WWII? So in this story, the Axis Powers are the monster. It seems an insurmountable feat, but the characters in this story are willing to chip away and wear down this monster.
Sorcery of Thorns is about a girl who is wrongly accused of committing a crime. She learns that it is not just about her; this is a much bigger problem than she originally thought. There are literal monsters in this story, but of course that is not the monster which she really needs to defeat. She is a lowly apprentice, the monster in this story is one of the highest, most powerful people in the land who has everyone else fooled.
Mysteries can fall under this category with the murderer as the monster. Body in the Garden is a lovely story about a widow, fighting against societal norms and solving a murder which took place at a friend’s house.
Rags to Riches
Rags to riches is a story in which a lowly character suddenly rises to a position of great power, status, or wealth. Red Queen is a classic story of a lowly person who suddenly became a person of high status and grows as she learns to navigate the political power structure.
Goblin Emperor is one of my favorite versions of this rags to riches story. I normally don’t love highly political stories, but this one is so beautifully and skillfully crafted, I couldn’t put it down. The story is about a Goblin who is exiled royalty for being out of favor. When everyone else in line for the throne dies in an “accident” the throne is thrust upon him.
Quest stories are when one, or as is often the case, a group of characters seek out a location or an object which will solve their problem.
Library of the Unwritten is a classic quest for a piece of writing. Oh my favorite stories are ones in which stories literally come alive! This IS a subgenre by now isn’t it? I have read so many of them recently. (Sorcery of Thorns, Library of the Unwritten, and Invisible Library) If it is not already a subgenre, then I am hereby dubbing it one now! LOL! I shall call it The Fantasy Library SubGenre.
Anyhow, Library of the Unwritten is about a librarian in Hell in charge of all the unwritten (never finished or never started) novels and stories. She is retrieving a story character that escaped from one of the unwritten novels when she stumbles upon a secret. A few pages of the Devil’s Bible is somewhere on Earth in the hands of a mortal. Angels are trying to get their hands on it and Demons as well. If one or the other does get it, then a war between Heaven and Hell could break out and devastated all the humans caught between. She must find and secure the pages before either Demons or Angels can get it.
Voyage and Return
Normally, voyage and return is a journey to a strange land that changes the person, then they return a new person.
Secret Soldiers is an excellent story about a young boy who lies about his age and joins the army during World War 1 to find his missing brother. He is taken to the trenches where he and three other boys are tasked with digging a huge tunnel under enemy lines. This battlefield is a strange world filled with danger, risk, sacrifice, loss, and friendship. True it is still Earth, but the battlefield is a whole other world compared to normal day to day life.
The most amazing thing about this story is that it is based on a true story. Anyhow, Spoiler…our main character does make it back home, but he is changed. I cannot say more without spoiling it, but trust me this is an amazing story!
One definition of this one, said the idea behind a classic comedy is that two people are in love, but through a series of misunderstandings, can’t be together. The misunderstandings might be the fault of a duplicitous bad guy. When the misunderstandings get cleared up, they get married and live happily ever after. As a teen I could not get enough of Much Ado About Nothing.
Others define it as a funny, good story, in which the conflict gets wildly complicated until a (usually simple) solution is presented and everyone lives happily ever after! If you seek this kind of story, then may I suggest anything by Terry Prachett. Also The Fire Thief by Terry Deary. He writes very much in the style of Terry Prachett, but uses Greek Mythology as a backdrop. Also, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is very comedic.
This is a plot arc in which a major transformation happens. Sometimes in fantasy this could be a physical transformation. I once read a short story in which a person slowly turned into a dragon. I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it or any details other than the imagery of a person being itchy because his skin was turning scaly. (I think this story is coming back to my mind from ages and ages ago because my bearded dragon is shedding for the first time.) Another example might be the story of The Dragon and the George by Gorden R. Dickerson
More often than not, this transformation is an inner transformation. It could be personal growth, a change in world view, wisdom,
To illustrate this plot type with a modern story, I’ve chosen a realistic fiction story, Chirp. I reviewed this book back in January (here). This book is part mystery and part rebirth. The events of the mystery dig up some old secrets and cause Mia to question some assumptions she’s made. By the end of the story she has transformed into a more confident version of herself which has learned to face her fears and ask for help when she needs it.
It was hard to think of a tragedy story that was not along the lines of Oedipus Rex. Tragedies are stories with flawed protagonists which lead to their downfall. I always think of this in Shakespearean terms…everybody dies!. I don’t often like this kind of story because it is so easily done poorly with a lack of foreshadowing. Plus I tend to be a very optimistic reader. One of the best examples of this is Legend by Marie Liu.
*spoilers*because you have had 9 years to read this book before now.*
She did some foreshadowing but I am too optimistic and always think “She is going to redeem herself at the last possible second, right?” Nope! I was devastated. This was an Anti Hero story. Other people loved this story though.
The 0.5 Mystery
I’ve waffled back and forth here. I propose that mystery is, or can be, a plot type all its own. It can fall under the overcoming the monster. But I ask, is the story really about overcoming the monster? For some mysteries yes. But in others it is more about the mental stimulation of the puzzle. For most mysteries, it is not about overcoming, it is about discovering, about finding, about outsmarting the monster.
Think about this: In The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library Series Book #5) The damage has already been done when they murdered the dragon at the Dragon/Fae Peace Conference in Mortal Word. Irene and her fellow Investigators must figure out who the murderer was and their motive, it is only at the very end in which she and her team must overcome the monster. So it is 90% solving a puzzle and 10% overcoming the monster.
Thanks for humoring me on this! I know, it is a stretch, but it’s fun to think about such things if you are a nerd like me!
What is your favorite Plot Archetype to read?
I like them all, but frequently find myself gravitating
Books Mentioned in this post:
- Live in Infamy
- Sorcery of Thorns
- Body in the Garden
- Red Queen
- Goblin Emperor
- Library of the Unwritten
- Invisible Library (Book#1)
- Invisible Library: Mortal Word (Book #5)
- Secret Soldiers
- The Fire Thief
- Terry Prachett
- Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
- The Dragon and the George
They are all great stories! Go check them out! Many of them are available on Bookshop.