How Many Plots Are There?

Without a plot you don’t have a story to sell. Fictional characters must be placed in a situation with conflict because only then will readers invest the time to discover how your characters overcome their obstacles.

Dr. Hensley is a professor of Professional Writing and the Director of Professional Writing at Taylor University. You can visit his blog page here. In his fiction class we were taught that there are only NINE plots? That’s all. Doesn’t knowing that make it easier to choose one?

Here they are with a few movie examples:

  1. Character vs. CHARACTER – opposing ideologies, north vs. south, Harry Potter movies, The Fugitive, Batman
  2. Character vs. HIMSELF   – Spiderman, Rocky, An Officer and a Gentlemen
  3. Character vs. GOD    –Frank vs. God  Dr. Hensley said, “In character vs. God, you have Job questioning why God allowed him to suffer and be broken by disease and poverty and bad weather.  You also have Baal verses Jehovah…Satan vs. Yaweh…the great poems such as “Paradise Lost.””
  4. Character vs. FATE/DESTINY   -The character sets out to change his life but ends up right where he started because he can’t change his destiny. Premonition, Star Wars.  Dr. Hensley said, “In character vs. fate you have the story of Jody in Giant. He wants to leave the ranch to fulfill his destiny to go East and become a medical doctor and come back to Texas to help the poor Tex-Mex people, but his father tells him his destiny is to stay and take over management of the ranch and oil fields.  Jody defies his father and is disowned.  Jody does eventually become a medical doctor, but he could have done more to help the poor people if he had inherited his father’s wealth.  He thinks he fulfilled his destiny by becoming a doctor, but his father thinks he made a fool of himself by sidestepping his real destiny of inheriting all the land, cattle, and oil.  Also, all of the Greek plays, such as Oedipus Rex, are stories of preordained destiny being fulfilled.”
  5. Character vs. UNKNOWN     – Star Trek
  6. Character vs. SETTING/NATURE     –Twister, Armaggedon, The Grey, Castaway, Jaws, Jurassic Park
  7. Character vs. MACHINE      –2001 Space Odyssey
  8. Character vs. SITUATION/CIRCUMSTANCES   – Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Titanic
  9. Character vs. CULTURE/SOCIETY    –The Hunger Games, Brave New World, The Iron Heel Dr. Hensley said, “In Character vs. Society there is The Borne Identity. The  CIA is trying to run an illegal “black ops” covert activity, but Jason Bourne no longer wants to be part of it, so he tries to unravel it and bring it down.  In All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein attack the President’s illegal activities designed to guarantee his re-election, but the reporters uncover the plot and force the President to resign in shame.
Can you think of other movie examples for these plots? Which one is your favorite and why?

Which plot do you think is the most engaging? Do you think plots have more than one conflict? Don’t they all have man vs self, too, because of their inner conflicts?  Or, like THE HUNGER GAMES, can there be more than one plot? Isn’t there the man vs. man conflict and also man vs. society?

If you’re a freelance writer, and need to step-up your sales, check out Dr. Dennis Hensley’s book, How to Write What You Love and Make a Living At It.  It can be purchased here.


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  1. I’ve heard him teach on this at a conf., absolutely great stuff, solid gold. Thanks so much for sharing.

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