WHAT IS STORY?: Types of Stories, Plot Types, Themes & Genres

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Learn everything you need to know about the types of stories, plot types, themes and genres in this screenwriting blog by Jerry Flattum on Script Mag!
When an idea is born for a script, at first it doesn’t matter what kind of story it is. A great idea is a great idea, right? But, defining the story type, understanding the underlying themes, and knowing where the story falls commercially (genres) clearly helps determine both structure and direction.

Dictionary definitions of what a story is just don’t cut it, i.e., “an account of incidents or events,” or “An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment,” or…the part of a building comprising all the rooms that are on the same level.” Couldn’t resist the last definition since some screenwriting gurus like to compare the construction of a script to the building of a house.

When it comes to story types, genres and plot types, the number of different types ranges from 1 to whatever. A single plot archetype might be that all stories begin with conflict. Comedy and Tragedy might be all that’s needed for 2 types.

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Types of Conflicts Include:

  • Human vs. self
  • Human vs. human
  • Human vs. nature
  • Human vs. environment
  • Human vs. technology (machine)
  • Human vs. supernatural
  • Human vs. god

Usually there’s a human involved, but conflict can certainly be animal vs. animal, etc.

In Christopher Booker’s, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, the 7 plots are:

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Blake Snyder shoots for 10 basic plot types in his, Save the Cat! The last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need:

  1. Monster in the House
  2. Out of the Bottle (Wishes and curses)
  3. Whydunit
  4. Golden Fleece (Quest; Journey)
  5. Rites of Passage
  6. Institutionalized
  7. Buddy Love
  8. Superhero
  9. Dude with a Problem
  10. The Fool Triumphant (Underdog)

Meanwhile, Ronald Tobias doubles 10 to 20 in, 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them:

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Excess
  19. Ascension & Descension

Georges Polti ups the ante, The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations:

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
  4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring Enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. The Enigma (temptation; riddle)
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of Kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
  15. Murderous Adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal Imprudence
  18. Involuntary Crimes of Love (Incest)
  19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
  20. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
  21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
  22. All Sacrificed for Passion
  23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
  24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of Love
  27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
  28. Obstacles to Love
  29. An Enemy Loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with a God
  32. Mistaken Jealousy
  33. Erroneous Judgement
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of a Lost One
  36. Loss of Loved Ones

Some of the listings, going by title alone, are a bit obscure, and require reading the book to understand in greater detail.

Want More Types of Stories, Plots, Genres, and Themes?:

  • Anecdote
  • Apologue
  • Bedtime Story
  • Captivity
  • Chivalric romance
  • Creation myth
  • Etiological myth
  • Fable
  • Factoid
  • Fairy tale
  • Farce
  • Fish-Out-Of-Water
  • Folklore
  • Folkloristics
  • Ghost story
  • Joke
  • Legend
  • Myths
  • Oral tradition
  • Parable
  • Political myth
  • Popular belief
  • Popular misconception
  • Satire
  • Short Story
  • Tall tale
  • Tales around the campfire
  • Urban legend

Clearly there’s a fair amount of overlap in these lists. Genres are similar to story type, or more accurately, types of stories fall within certain genres:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Animation
  • Biography
  • Comedy
  • Coming of Age
  • Courtroom
  • Crime
  • Epic
  • Erotica
  • Fantasy
  • Film Noir
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Philosophical
  • Political
  • Religion
  • Romance
  • Saga
  • Satire
  • Science fiction
  • Slice of Life
  • Spy
  • Supernatural
  • Thriller
  • Urban
  • War

Well, there are actually hundreds of film and TV genres, criss-crossing fiction genres and maybe a few music genres as well. Obviously it would take a book to go into all the various types in detail, so I’ll focus on just a few less obscure ones.

Themes are equally numerous. The more common types of themes include:

  • Redemption
  • Resurrection
  • Prodigal Son
  • Transformation
  • Vengeance
  • Innocence
  • Justice
  • Sacrifice
  • Jealousy
  • Friendship
  • Fate

And the biggest one of all: Love.

Silence of the Lambs is a great example of a type of theme including that of monsters and battles.

Monster

A fairly easy type to understand, monsters include everything from the supernatural to aliens and dinosaurs, and of course, classic monsters like Freddie and even Hannibal Lecter. Monsters are scary. It takes courage to do battle against monsters.

Adventure

Another fairly easy category to grasp, Indiana Jones, Around the World in 80 Days, Titanic, Matrix, Robin Hood, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, to name a few. Adventure stories are usually heroic (even when the character is ordinary), fast paced with lots of action, overcoming larger-than-life obstacles, and take us to exotic places.

Rags to Riches

Rags to Riches stories usually have happy endings, where a downtrodden character overcomes numerous obstacles and rises above his/her limitations. The story or character arc doesn’t necessarily have to be financial. Even Rocky could be deemed rags to riches. Cinderella, a fairy tale, is perhaps the most popular. Other examples: My Fair Lady, Slumdog Millionaire, Scarface and Trading Places.

Thelma & Louise is a buddy story type of theme that involves a tragic tale of two women so close that they're willing to die together.

Buddy Stories

Numerous buddy stories abound, friends who might be good, bad or ugly. Rain Man is about 2 brothers who become best friends. Lethal Weapon is two cops. Thelma & Louise is a tragic tale of two women so close, they’re willing to die together.

Superhero

Superheroes are not always comicbook, such as Gladiator or A Beautiful Mind. But then, when we think of superheroes, we think of the stories that launched our childhoods: Batman, Spiderman, Superman.


Download your FREE copy of Breakdown of Film Genres to get insights into writing genres and how to determine which screenplay genre would serve your story the best:

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