[The Art] 100 Timeless Plot Archetypes
Proven storytelling structures you can use to take the reader on a similar, but different, journey.
Before we begin (and I don’t say this lightly), last week I published one of the most valuable pieces of writing I’ve ever assembled.
Writer Career Paths: 9 Ways To Make $1,000,000 With Words.
If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so. Words can’t explain how badly I wish someone had given me a roadmap like that at the start of my writing career. Furthermore, even if someone considers themselves to be a “successful writer,” I would also encourage them to give it a read as well—because I find 99% of the time, the writer doesn’t actually have true clarity around his or her career goal.
I am going to expand this post into my next book, so if you’d like a sneak peek, well… there you go.
I have spent the past 2 weeks going down the Brandon Sanderson rabbit hole.
If you don’t know who he is, don’t worry—I didn’t either.
Brandon Sanderson is one of the most successful Fantasy writers on the planet. His books have sold tens of millions of copies, and over the years he has built quite the cult following. In 2022, he also set the record for the most money raised on Kickstarter EVER, raising a whopping $41 million for the release of 4 secret novels he had been working on during the pandemic. Unreal.
Now, if I’m being honest, Fantasy isn’t really my favorite genre. And if I’m being really honest, Brandon Sanderson is far from my favorite writer. But a writer-friend of mine, Nathan Baugh, put me on to Sanderson’s college-level Fantasy Writing Class—which is completely free on YouTube (what a time to be alive!)—and I’ve been binging it ever since.
So, I wanted to put it on your radar too. (The first video is above, and if you open it in a new tab on YouTube the entire playlist of videos from the class are easily accessible.)
Jumping ahead here:
In his second lecture, Sanderson talks about the importance of using Plot Archetypes in your stories.
What is a “Plot Archetype?”
A Plot Archetype is a type of story that has been told over and over again throughout history—the most famous one being The Hero’s Journey. Star Wars is The Hero’s Journey. But so is Hunger Games. And so is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And so is The Princess Bride.
These are all “different” stories, but they’re *built* on the same foundation.
That foundation is the Plot Archetype.
“Same, But Different.”
The reason Plot Archetypes are so helpful is because readers (and consumers of anything, in any industry) are always looking for things that are “similar” to what they already like—but “different” enough that they seem fresh and new.
By the way, if you want to go down the rabbit hole on this topic and you haven’t read the book Hit Makers by Derek Thompson (Senior Editor at The Atlantic), I highly recommend it. The book is all about how some of the most “new” and captivating works of art have found subtle ways to play on familiarity—which is what causes them to be so *sticky* and resonant.
When you’re thinking about what sort of story to write, it’s worth beginning with the question, “What Plot Archetype do I want to use?”
And of course, the bottleneck to using Plot Archetypes in your process is knowing what kinds of Plot Archetypes exist in the world!
So, I went ahead and compiled a list for you (as many good ones as I could think of).
100 Timeless Plot Archetypes
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