Also look at my notes on dramatic structure, which are probably more helpful and certainly better organized than the following.
Get the protagonist up a tree; throw rocks at him; get him back down the tree.
Conflict is the method of drama. It arises from character. Going back to Aristotle (read Poetics) and before (Plato, Socrates), the Greek philosophical model seeks to resolve conflict through discourse. This is dramatic story-telling in essence. This dialectic is an exchange of propositions. The thesis is the first proposition. It can be a question or plan or idea/value the character holds. The antithesis is the counter proposition or obstacle, an opposing force. The synthesis is what results or resolves, transforming the material and the conflict between the thesis and antithesis into something new. This is where the idea of 3 act structure comes from. I use thesis-antithesis-synthesi as philosophical short-hand for the basic structure of drama. As Syd Field would say, get your character up a tree, throw rocks at him, get him down. Going up the tree is the thesis, it's the characte's solution to some problem. In the tree he has rocks thrown at him (antithesis), complicating the action. The synthesis is how and why he finds a way down from the tree. It's the under structure of the play or movie, as well as being repeated internally as the basic structure of the smaller units contained within, the scene.
A Three Act Structure Defined By The Hero’s Relationship With The Theme Theme: A proposed argument, e.g. “There’s no place like home,” “It is better to love and lose than never to have loved at all,” “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In this sense, “theme” could actually be referred to as “The Answer.” This perspective can provide a useful sense of limitation when crafting sequences for a story. After all, you could write practically anything on page 48, but you’re trying to write the right thing. And when readers say “this scene/character/moment feels inorganic to the story,” what they really mean is “this scene/character/moment is disconnected from the development of the theme.” And what that means is that no matter how clever or original or thought-provoking the material is, it’s ceased to be about something. When that happens, return to your Theme. Act One: The Hero is ignorant of the truth of the Theme, and demonstrates this ignorance clearly. Act Two: The Hero faces tests that begin to slowly reveal the truth of the Theme (and the non-truth of the Hero’s current belief system). At the end of the act, the truth of the Theme is fully revealed, and the Hero is faced with the tragic fact that he’s been living an ignorant life. Act Three: The Hero attempts to do that which believers-of-the-Theme would do, but only in the moment when he actually believes is he finally able to triumph.
Mistaken jealousy leads to ruin. Othello: Othello's ill-placed trust in the villain Iago, resulting in his growing suspicion in his wife Desdemona's infidelity with his lieutenant Cassio, led to the ultimate tragedy. [Man vs. Self; Wretched Excess; Mistaken Jealousy]
Some legends are true. Flory Cantillon's Funeral: Connor Crowe stealthily watches Flory Cantillion's supernatural funeral procession. [Man vs. Supernatural; The Riddle; The Enigma]
[Man vs. ; ; ]
The lists below are from the Internet Public Library.
7 basic plots as remembered from second grade by IPL volunteer librarian Jessamyn West:
Tobias, Ronald B. 20 Master Plots. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993. (ISBN 0-89879-595-8)
This book proposes twenty basic plots:
Polti, Georges. The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. trans. Lucille Ray.
Polti claims to be trying to reconstruct the 36 plots that Goethe alleges someone named [Carlo] Gozzi came up with. (In the following list, the words in parentheses are our annotations to try to explain some of the less helpful titles.):
© Paul Gorman