Mixed Up Plot Lines

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Have you ever read a book and wondered exactly what the plot was about. It seems from the first chapter that you’re confused as to what exactly is happening. You’re introduced to a plethora of characters and they all have different schemes on their minds. Nothing about this book makes any sense at all and the reader is often left angry.

Welcome to the world of a mixed up plot line. You, the author, have failed in your first task, to make clear what your book is about. You became involved with each character’s motivation without making clear the one thing that will bring all of them together. Now, you’re staring at reviews that are less than shining and can’t believe how that happened.

Your book’s plot needs to be clear and concise from the first page. This is the main feature of your novel. The worst thing you can about your plot is “It might be too complex for audiences to follow.”

The first thing you, the author, needs to remember is that there are seven basic plot lines. That’s right, just seven. Every book ever written falls into one of these categories:

Overcoming the Monster

The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force, which is threatening their world. Pretty simple to figure out this type of plot. The main character has an overwhelming force they must overcome in order to feel safe in their world.

Rags to Riches

Need we say more? A poor person becomes rich, with an interesting journey to their wealth. What counts as wealth isn’t just money, though. Perhaps their wealth is along the lines of happiness. Maybe they have to prove to others they can accomplish an impossible task.

The Quest

Most used in the fantasy genre, a quest can also be the determination of a teen to stand against the flow and be an individual. It can be a parent holding up their head when adversity destroys their dreams and they must start over. Any type of quest, no matter the genre, can be interesting and vital to the plot.

Voyage and Return

The main character travels to a strange land, has many adventures, and goes back to their home. Use your imagination to figure out if this strange land can be crossing the street or a continent. Maybe your character takes off for another galaxy to participate in a revolution. The possibilities are endless.


Writing comedy has to be the hardest thing most authors will attempt. You’ll have to cater to your audience and ensure they understand your brand of funny, which might offend some of your readers. The book doesn’t have to remain lighthearted throughout, but that certainly is a major factor.


A major character flaw or great mistake is your protagonist’s undoing in this type of story. Making your main character sympathetic in this type of book is difficult. You need to avoid having their flaw/mistake so great that everyone will hate them. Another problem can be the resolution. It should be an understandable but not trite method of solving their problem.


A major event in your main character’s life forces them to change how they approach a problem, become better than they were in the past.

There is one other type of plot line, and this one is where the book can become confusing if done incorrectly. The Meta-Plot involves mixing of plot lines. It begins with an anticipation stage, where your main character is called into an adventure. This evolves into a dream stage, where the character’s success allows them to believe they are invincible and can’t fail. The character is then thrust into the frustration stage, where they face an antagonist and discover failure, or perhaps they defeat their enemy. The climax of this type of plot, the nightmare stage, leaves your main character lost, unable to figure out why they failed. In order to give your readers closure, you must segue into the resolution stage, giving your character the chance to redeem him/herself.

The Meta-Plot is where authors tend to make the mistake of confusing their readers. It’s too easy to attempt to put the full plot of the story into the first chapter. That leaves readers unsure what’s happening. When you design your plot, remember this…

Be clear about the intentions of your book. Don’t open your story in such a complex way that your readers are confused.


It's interesting that classically the division was simply into tragedy and comedy. Here those are only two among eight classes.

I've mentally added "epic" or "adventure" to the standard dichotomy, and that fits at least some of the master plots you outline. Do you think there is a supercategory into which some of the non-tragedy, non-comedy plots fall?


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