How do you write a best-selling novel or an award-winning screenplay? You might say, great writing or unique characters or thrilling conflict. But so much of writing a great story is knowingand mastering the type of story you're trying to tell.
What are the types of stories? And how do you use them to tell a great story?
In this article, we're going to cover the ten types of stories, share which tend to become best-sellers, and share the hidden values that help you master each type.
But first, what do I mean by “types of stories”?
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Definition of Story Types
As stories have evolved for thousands of years, they began to fall into patterns called story types. These types tend to operate on the same underlying values. They also share similar structures, characters, and what Robert McKee calls obligatory scenes.
But Wait, Do Story Types Really Exist?
First, I want to address some discomfort you might be feeling with this idea. If you think that stories are magical and mystical, and the idea of putting them in a box feels terrible to you, I just want to say, I get that. I feel like that about stories, too!
You see, there are two ways you can figure out the patterns that stories take—the different types of stories.
You can start with stories themselves: looking through hundreds or even thousands until you get to four, seven, twelve, or even thirty-six master plots. This is what Christopher Booker did with his excellent guideThe Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, and you can get breakdowns of each of his types here.
And that can be helpful, certainly, but what about stories that are a little strange, genre-breaking, or out of the box?
Do they not have a “type”?
The other way you can figure out the types of stories is by going deeper, to the underlying reasons humans tell stories in the first place, the reason we've been telling stories for thousands of years, all the way back to the campfire stories our ancestors told each other.
Why do we tell stories? The reason humans have always told stories (and always will) is because we want something.
Maybe we want something as simple as to stay alive. This was one reason our long-ago ancestors told stories about surviving attacks from ferocious beasts.
Maybe we want love or belonging, so we tell great love stories about couples destined (or doomed) to be together.
Maybe we want to become the best version of ourselves. We tell stories about how people have overcome adversity, even pushed back against their narrow-minded communities, to fully self-actualize.
Or maybe we want to tell stories about what it's like to transcend, to go beyond yourself and your circumstances and serve the good of the whole community, the whole world, and so we tell stories about sacrifice and great heroism.
In other words, basic story types arise from values, from the things humans want, and the great thing is, there has been a lot of research into the values humans find to be universal.
Story Types Are Defined by 6 Values
Great, bestselling stories are about values.
Value, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
In other words, a value is something you admire, something you want. If you value something, it means youthink it’s good.
Values in Stories
Here are some examples of things you might value:
- A sibling
This could easily become a never-ending list.
But if you think about it, every value can be distilled to six essential human values. Building off of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these values are as follows (credit to Robert McKee and Shawn Coyne for introducing me to these concepts):
- Survival from Nature. The value of life. Because if you don’t have your life, you don’t have much.
- Survival from Others. Surviving crime, other people, even monsters, you could say.
- Love/Community. The value of human connection.
- Esteem. The value of your status and hierarchy within a community.
- Personal Growth. The value of reaching your potential.
- Transcendence. The value of going beyond yourself to discover a larger purpose.
Once you distill these values, you can turn these values into scales, because these values are usually in conflict with their opposite.
- Survival from Nature > Life vs. Death
- Survival from Others > Life vs. Fate Worse than Death
- Love/Community >Love vs. Hate
- Esteem >Accomplishment vs. Failure
- Personal Growth > Maturity vs. Immaturity
- Transcendence > Right vs. Wrong
In fact, it is the conflict between these values that generate the movement and change that makes the story work.
These are the same values that drive good storytelling.
If you take them a step further you can take these value scales and map them to different types of stories—or plot types. Here's how it works:
- Life vs. Death: Adventure, Action Stories
- Life vs. Fate Worse than Death: Thriller, Horror, Mystery Stories
- Love vs. Hate: Romance/Love Stories
- Accomplishment vs. Failure: Performance/Sports Stories
- Maturity vs. Immaturity: Coming of Age stories
- Right vs. Wrong: Temptation/Morality Stories
These plot types transcend literary genre. You can have a sci-fi love story, a historical thriller, a fantasy performance story, a mystery romance story, or even a young adult adventure story. (For more, check out my guide on literary genres here.)
Your story’s plot type will determine much of your story: the scenes you must include, the conventions and tropes you employ, your characters (including protagonists, side characters, and antagonists), and more.
How does that work practically? Let's look at a couple of examples:
Adventure Story Type Example
Let's look at a classic example, The Hobbit, one of the best-selling novels of all time, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
When you're trying to understand the typeof story you're trying to tell, the first question to ask is, “What value scale do a majority of the scenes move on?”
The question constantly coming up in The Hobbit is this: “Is Bilbo Baggins going to survive the run-ins with the spiders and trolls and orcs, or is he not going to survive?”
The Hobbit, at its core, is an adventure story, and that means that a majority of the scenes move on the Life vs. Death Scale.
While there are certainly scenes that fall on the Good vs. Evil and Maturity vs. Naïveté scales, it is the Life vs. Death scale that most of the scenes move on.
The 10 Types of Stories
Now that we've looked at an example, let's break down each of the ten main story types and talk about how they work.
Each of these plot types has typical archetypes for their inciting incidents and main event/climax. While you can certainly tweak or even re-work these archetypes, it's best to understand how they work and ensure that your new version of the event can bring out as much of the conflict as the typical method.
For more on this, check out our respective guides on inciting incidents and climaxes.
These ideas are not new, and I also have to acknowledge a huge debt to the story theorists who have gone before me, especially Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat; Robert McKee, author of Story; and Shawn Coyne, author of Story Grid.
1. Adventure Story Type
Value: Life vs. Death
Inciting Incident Archetype(s): The Quest for the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is an object, place, or (sometimes) person of great importance to the characters of the story, and the thing that drives the plot. For example, the ring in Lord of the Rings, the horcruxes in Harry Potter, or the ark of the covenant in Indiana Jones. Most adventure plot typesrevolve around aMacGuffin, and the inciting incident involves introducing the MacGuffin and its importance.
Main Event: Final showdown with the bad guys (while trying to get the MacGuffin).
Examples: The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Beowulf, Alice in Wonderland
Note:Most (but not all) hero's journey stories fit this type, as well as any “voyage and return” type plots.
2. Action Story Type
Value: Life vs. Death
Inciting Incident Archetype(s):
- Great Crime Against Me. Many action plots beginwith some kind of wrong done to the protagonist, usually but not always by the chief antagonist. This begins the action of the story as the protagonist seeks to right this wrong or, often, get revenge.
- The Emergence of a Great Evil. An alternative inciting incident involves the emergence of some kind of great evil. This may be another character like an antagonist, a natural force or disaster, or some kind of other creature. The emergence of this evil thing creates a need for the protagonist to respond urgently.
Main event: Showdown with the Bad Guy
Examples: The Count of Monte Cristo, Hunger Games
3. Horror Story Type
Value: Life vs. Fate Worse than Death
Inciting Incident Archetype(s):
- Forbidden Object/Act. Many horror stories begin with the main character doing some kind of forbidden thing, whether stealing a forbidden object or causing the death of someone else, which leads to a reprisal, often in the form of a monstrous creature, being, or person.
- “Monster in the House.” This plot type, coined by Blake Snyder of Save the Cat, begins when the characters are trapped within some kind of space—often a house but potentially any limited amount of space like a city or even the world as a whole—with some kind of monstrous creature, being, or person.
Main Event:Confrontation of the Monster
Examples: The Shining,The Exorcist,The Haunting of Hill House,The Grudge, Candyman, Macbeth
4. Thriller Story Type
Value: Life vs. a Fate Worse than Death
The thriller plot type is closely related to the Action and Mystery plot types. Both begin with some kind of crime, contain investigative elements, and climax with the hero at the mercy of the villain.
However, what makes it unique is there is always a horror element, a sense that this is somehow worse, more monstrous, than your average crime.
It's a fine line, though, and many story theories, like those from Robert McKee, make no distinction between the Thriller with the Action plot types.
Inciting Incident Archetype(s): Show me the (Monstrously Brutalized) Body. As with the mystery plot type (below), Thriller plot types contain an inciting incident in which a crime is discovered, whether it's a literal dead body, a theft, or some other type of crime. However, with thriller, the crime has a horror feel to it, the crime being particularly monstrous, brutal, etc.
Main Event: Hero at the Mercy of the Villain. In the climactic scene, the main character is caught by the antagonist and at their mercy, showing their (temporary) dominance. Depending on the story arc, the protagonist may reverse their situation or succumb to the antagonist.
5. Mystery Story Type
Value: Life vs. Fate Worse than Death (in the sense of a restoration of Justice)
Inciting Incident Archetype(s): Show Me the Body. All mystery plot types contain an inciting incident in which a crime is discovered, whether it's a literal dead body, a theft, or some other type of crime.
Main Event: The Confession. The antagonist confesses to the crime and justice, the power of life over death, is restored.
Examples: The Inspector Gamacheseries, Harry Potterand the Chamber of Secrets(as a subplot)
6. Romance/Love Story Type
Value: Love vs. Hate
Inciting Incident Archetype(s):Meet Cute OR We Should Break Up. Love plots either begin with the couple meeting or breaking up/getting into some kind of conflict. The meet cute inciting incident involves the couple meeting in some unexpected, comedic, and/or often shambolic way, often while having extreme distaste for each other at the outset.
Main Event: Proof of Love. After some kind of separation, the protagonist must overcome obstacles to prove their love to the other.
Examples: A Midsummer Night's Dream,Romeo and Juliet,10 Things I Hate About You and most Rom-coms
For more on writing or editing a love story, check out this coaching video:
7. Performance/Sports Story Type
Value: Accomplishment vs. Failure
The core value of the performance story type is esteem, which is all about looking good in front of your community, usually after accomplishing a great feat or winning a widely recognized competition.
Inciting Incident Archetype(s):Entry into the Big Tournament. Performance stories—whether the performance medium is sports, music, art, or some other avenue—all contain an inciting incident where the characters enter a major tournament, performance, or competition. This competition is usually an actual event (e.g. the Olympics, the state championship) but may be a less formal competition.
Main Event: The Big Tournament. After preparing for the big event by overcoming smaller obstacles throughout the story, the protagonist faces their challenger in the final competition.
Examples: Miracle, Cobra Kai, Ghost, Hamilton
8. Coming of Age Story Type
Value: Maturity vs. Immaturity
Inciting Incident Archetype(s):
- Here There Be Dragons (Confronting the Unknown). Coming of age plots often begin with an inciting incident involving something unknown, something that is outside of the protagonist’s current worldview. This throws the protagonist into confusion and shows them how much they must learn about the world.
- The Principal's Office. Alternatively, the character may get into trouble early on, often in a school setting. This forces the character to begin the process of reflecting on his or her life and making changes.
Main Event: The Revelation. In a moment of crisis, the protagonist has a major worldview revelation, leading them to see the world in a new, more sophisticated way.
Examples: How to Train Your Dragon, Catcher in the Rye,Good Will Hunting,Harry Potterand the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Ugly Duckling
9. Temptation/Morality Story Type
Value: Good vs. Evil
The value of good vs. evil here is not “The Good Guys” vs. “The Bad Guys.” That plot type is usually action. Instead, the evil is within the character, and they must choose whether to do the good, self-sacrificial thing or the selfish, evil thing.
Inciting Incident Archetype(s):Let's Make a Deal. Often temptation stories begin with a proverbial “deal with the devil,” in which the character is tempted to do something they think is relatively harmless but might give them great reward.
Main Event: Judgement Day. Facing the consequences of their actions, the main character must either embrace their consequences and change or continue to attempt to escape them and face damnation.
Examples: Wall Street, A Christmas Carol
10. Combinations (Advanced!)
While all great stories are driven by values and the conflict between them, many stories combine plot types and/or value scales in unique ways, creating new plot types of their own.
Often this approach works best with either longer works, epics that combine many arcs into one story, or shorter works, like short stories, which may not contain all the elements of longer, more established plot types.
However, combining or rearranging plot types is considered advanced. Consider before you attempt to come up with your own completely unique plot type, especially if you are a new writer, as you risk the story not working or getting lost in the plot and failing to finish.
Remember: working with an established plot type requires just as much creativity and flair for coming up with dramatic situations as invention your own.
While most popular stories will fit within the ten plot types above, you could also get more specific by exploring subtypes.
Subtypes are more specific plots with unique conventions, tropes, and characters. Examples of subtypes include revenge plots, a subtype of action plots; heist plots, a subplot of adventure stories; or obsession love stories.
Most stories that work will fall somewhere into the above plot types, and allstories that work will fall into the six value scales.
These 10 Types of Stories Work for Any Story Arc
Great novels, films, memoirs, and plays come in many shapes, but researchers from the University of Vermont have identified six primary shapes, all of which we talk about in detail in our story arcs guide. Here are the six:
- Rags to Riches. Happy ending story moving from negative to positive value.
- Riches to Rags. Tragic story moving from positive to negative value.
- Man in a hole. Happy ending story moving from positive to negative and back to positive.
- Icarus. Tragic story moving from negative topositive and backto negative value.
- Cinderella. Happy ending story starting negative, moving to positive, back to negative, and finally to positive again.
- Oedipus. Tragic story starting positive, moving to negative, back to positive, and finally to negative at the end.
Again, we have a full guide on the six story arcs, complete with plot diagrams, here.
These arcs are independent of plot type.
You can have a tragic Icarus mystery story where the villain gets away. You can have a Cinderella horror story where the monster starts out bad, then seems to be nearly defeated, only to come back stronger and then finally get destroyed in the end.
Even though certain genres and plot types have tendenciestoward specific plotlines, the types work independently of arc. Choose any combination of the arcs and plot types, and it will still work.
2 Tips About How to Use These Plot Types
How do you actually write a book with these plot types in mind? Follow these two tips:
1. First, Know Your Values
Bad books, stories that don'twork, don’t know what their values are.
Or they’re trying to have every single value possible.
You can’t do that if you want to tell a great story. You have to choose! If you want to master the type of story you're trying to tell, start with finding the story's value.
Here's a video that shows how one author figured out their plot type by diving into the value at the center of their story.
2. Focus on Conflict Between Values
You've heard your stories need conflict, but that doesn't mean more arguments and car chases.
The kind of conflict your stories need moreof is between values, and the way to master anytype of story is to put the story's main value in conflict with its opposite.
If you're writing an adventure story, that means you need to have life and death moments.
If you're writing a thriller, you need to have moments of life vs. fate worsethan death.
If you're writing a love story, you need to have as many moments of negative love, of anger, disillusion, and even hatred, as you do love.
If you're writing a sports story, there have to be as many moments of near failure, or actualfailure, as there are of success.
If you're writing a coming-of-age story, then you need to include moments where the growing maturity of the character is put into conflict with its opposite, immaturity.
And finally, if you're writing a temptation or morality story, then you need moments of temptation—where the character genuinely considers if they should take actions they know are wrong because of how it could benefit them or solve a greater problem.
So how about you? What type of story are you trying to tell?Let us know in the comments.
Need more plot help? After you practice this plot element in the exercise below, check out my new book The Write Structure which helps writers make their plot better and write books readers love. Low price for a limited time!
Get The Write Structure – $9.99 $5.99 »
Put the types of story to use now with the following creative writing exercise.
First, choose one of the story scales above.
Then, outline the inciting incident scene or another scene in which your protagonistis faced with the negative value in that scale.
Finally, set a timer for fifteen minutes. Write as much of your scene as you can.
When your time is up, post your scene in the practice box below. And when you're done, check out others who have shared their scenes. Let them know what you think!
Enter your practice here:
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.
February 10, 2023
Premise: The First Step To Writing Your Book
February 3, 2023
Subplot: Literary Definition, Examples, and Writing Tips
January 27, 2023
Story Arcs: Definitions and Examples of the 6 Shapes of Stories
https://thewritepractice.com/author/joe-bunting/(Video) Learn To Value Yourself | Short Motivational Story In Bengali | Positive Stories Bangla #shorts
January 25, 2023
What Is a Narrative Device: 9 Types with Examples
What are the 10 elements of story? ›
- Point of View.
- Idea. It starts with an idea. ...
- General plot. What is the novel about? ...
- Character. I tend to move away from plot once I have the elevator pitch down. ...
- A synopsis. Ah, the synopsis. ...
- Write! I do a first draft where I essentially write up the above synopsis. ...
- Read. ...
- Re-write. ...
- Prose edit.
- Study effective examples of plot development.
- Use a plotting process to shape your story.
- Create a timeline of your novel's plot events.
- Make characters develop in intriguing ways.
- Make each of the '5 W's' change.
- Outline scenes to create a storyboard.
Along with the methods, several types of Intensive Reading are also there. Scanning, Skimming, Exploratory Reading, Study Reading, Analytical Reading, Critical Reading, Developmental Reading are a few of them.What are the 10 types of stories save the cat? ›
The genres include Monster in the House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, The Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized, and Superhero.What are the 9 major elements of a story? ›
So, keep in mind that you need a main theme, characters, setting, tension, climax, resolution, plot, purpose and chronology for a powerful story.What are the 7 important parts to a story? ›
- 1 — A Theme. Plot (#5) is what happens in a story, a theme is why it happens—which you need to know while you're writing the plot. ...
- 2 — Characters. I'm talking believable characters who feel knowable. ...
- 3 — Setting. ...
- 4 — Point of View. ...
- 5 — Plot. ...
- 6 — Conflict. ...
- 7 — Resolution.
- Identify the focus of your short story. ...
- Start writing. ...
- Write a compelling beginning. ...
- Create a powerful ending. ...
- Read your story out loud. ...
- Edit and revise. ...
- Ask for feedback.
- Introduce a key character's name (and how they got it) ...
- Begin with a landmark personal or historical event. ...
- Sow the seeds of your story's world. ...
- Start in the thick of action with dialogue. ...
- Introduce a strong narratorial voice. ...
- Begin with a character doing something unusual.
- Love your story. ...
- Withhold information from your readers. ...
- Write simple sentences. ...
- Mix up your writing. ...
- Write every day. ...
- Set milestones. ...
- Understand basic story structure. ...
- Learn strong character development techniques.
What are 5 key steps to developing a storyline? ›
- Identify and Understand Your Audience. ...
- Determine Your Goal. ...
- Discover the Challenge(s) ...
- Find the Right Character. ...
- Bring it to Resolution.
- Find Your Reading Corner. ...
- Preview the Text. ...
- Use Smart Starting Strategies. ...
- Highlight or Annotate the Text. ...
- Take Notes on Main Points. ...
- Write Questions as You Read. ...
- Look Up Words You Don't Know. ...
- Make Connections.
Reading is good for you because it improves your focus, memory, empathy, and communication skills. It can reduce stress, improve your mental health, and help you live longer. Reading also allows you to learn new things to help you succeed in your work and relationships.What are the 20 types of stories? ›
- Quest. The hero searches for something, someone, or somewhere. ...
- Adventure. The protagonist goes on an adventure, much like a quest, but with less of a focus on the end goal or the personal development of hero hero. ...
- Pursuit. ...
- Rescue. ...
- Escape. ...
- Revenge. ...
- The Riddle. ...
A story theme is a broad conceptual philosophy that an author wishes to convey through their literary work. To extract a story's theme, a reader must go beneath the surface of the action that's described on the page.What are the 5 things in a story? ›
There are five key elements to every story: plot, setting, characters, point of view, and conflict.What are the 8 parts of a story? ›
There are eight elements of a story: theme, plot, characters, setting, conflict, point-of-view, tone and style.What are the 4 elements of a great story? ›
The four elements necessary for your story structure are character, plot, setting, and tension. Balancing these elements is the first step to making your creative writing amazing.What makes a story a good story? ›
The best story is a well-told tale about something the reader feels is relevant or significant. The best stories are more complete and more comprehensive. They contain more verified information from more sources with more viewpoints and expertise. They exhibit more enterprise, more reportorial effort.What are the 6 important aspects of a short story? ›
What Are The 6 Elements of Fiction? Most fiction writers and academics agree that the six elements of fiction are theme, plot, setting, characters, point of view and style.
What are the 5 parts of a story structure? ›
The five-act structure is a formula that breaks a story into distinct sections: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.What are the three 3 most important story elements? ›
- Characters: introduce the people involved. ...
- Conflict: the lesson is often illustrated in how the character transforms through challenge. ...
- Resolution: how did the character(s) change?
If you know the climax — you know all of the crucial elements. Here's how elements relate to climax and to each other: Climax is a moment where the story's main Event happens, that makes it the most crucial scene. Story is written about the Event, thus Story = Event = Climax.What makes a story a story? ›
A story is anything that makes the audience feel something and leaves them wanting to know what happens next.What are the 6 stages of a story? ›
Specifically, the students learned the six-stage story structure (i.e. setting, theme, attempt, consequence, climax, and resolution) from a number of stories in the dual tasks (i.e. the use of digital storybook after the use of paper-based storybook) and then applied this structure to create their own stories.How many story types are there? ›
Many academics, most notably author Christopher Booker, believe there are only seven basic narrative plots in all of storytelling – frameworks that are recycled again and again in fiction but populated by different settings, characters, and conflicts.What are the 5 types of short stories? ›
- Novella. A work of fiction between 20,000 and 49,999 words is considered a novella. ...
- Novelette. A novelette falls in the range of 7,500 to 19,999 words. ...
- Short story. ...
- Flash fiction. ...
- Short Fiction Challenge.
exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. A series of events that builds from the beginning of the story. Rising action is where the author builds interest and tension in the story.What are the 9 types of stories? ›
- Overcoming the Monster.
- The Quest.
- Voyage and Return.
- Rags to Riches.
- Overcoming the Monster.
- Rags to Riches.
- The Quest.
- Voyage and Return.