Settings and characters may change, but many of the underlying plotlines of stories remain consistent. These plotlines endure because they reflect human experiences and emotions. Here are the most common of them.
The protagonist sets out to achieve something, often accompanied by companions, facing numerous obstacles and temptations along the way.
Voyage and Return
The protagonist goes to a different world or environment, faces and overcomes threats, and returns transformed.
After a period of moral decay or a sort of 'death', the protagonist undergoes a transformation and is reborn into a new self.
A story that brings characters into conflict or confusion, but everything is resolved by the end, restoring the social order.
The protagonist's flaws lead them to destruction, often imparting a lesson or moral to the audience.
Overcoming the Monster
The protagonist must defeat a great evil or antagonist, often growing as a person in the process.
Rags to Riches
The protagonist rises from obscurity or adversity to greatness, either materially, emotionally, or morally.
The Hero's Journey
This plotline describes the cyclical journey of a hero: starting with a call to adventure, facing trials, receiving mentorship, confronting and overcoming the central challenge, and then returning home transformed.
Two characters, often from different backgrounds or circumstances, fall in love but face obstacles to their relationship, ultimately leading to a resolution (either happily or tragically).
Similar to the love story, but here societal, familial, or other constraints keep the lovers apart, leading to heartbreak or sacrifice.
The protagonist must solve a puzzle or crime, with clues, suspects, and revelations guiding the story to its resolution.
The protagonist faces seemingly insurmountable odds but ultimately succeeds, often through perseverance, heart, and grit.
The Coming of Age
The protagonist grows from youth to adulthood. The story chronicles the challenges, lessons, and growth associated with maturation.
Fish Out of Water
The protagonist is thrust into an unfamiliar environment and must adapt to survive or thrive.
Enemy to Friend
Two characters start as adversaries but through mutual experiences come to respect, understand, or love each other.
The protagonist (or a group) stands up against an oppressive force, often representing a larger societal or philosophical issue.
A flawed or morally compromised protagonist seeks redemption for past misdeeds, often sacrificing something significant in the process.
A character's aspiration or obsession drives the plot, for better or for worse.
The protagonist is relentlessly pursued, either physically or metaphorically, by an antagonist or a force.
Characters are placed in a life-threatening situation and must endure, often leading to personal growth.
Trust is broken between characters, leading to conflict and, often, a quest for justice or revenge.
The protagonist discovers something profound—be it a place, a truth about themselves, or a hidden secret—that has transformative power.
The protagonist must give up something significant for a greater good or for someone else.
A character undergoes a significant internal change, not just growth or maturation, often prompted by external events.
Beyond just rags-to-riches, this plot involves a character being recognised or rewarded far beyond their apparent worth or station, often with a 'magical' element helping them.
The story sets up one character as the central figure, but as events unfold, focus shifts to another character, subverting expectations.
A story within a story. The outer narrative sets the stage or provides context for the inner narrative.
These are broad archetypes, and many stories combine elements from multiple plotlines. For instance, a story can be both a love story and a quest, or a tragedy with elements of rebirth.