The Basic Plots of Romance

There are a lot of somewhat clever questions on Ask Yahoo, such as:

Where does the “g” in “g-string” come from?

What’s the best-selling novel ever written?

and my new personal favorite:

I’ve heard there are only seven basic story plots. What are they?

The Yahoo answer cites a few sources, most specifically the Internet Public Library which says the magic seven are:

1 [wo]man vs. nature
2 [wo]man vs. man
3 [wo]man vs. the environment
4 [wo]man vs. machines/technology
5 [wo]man vs. the supernatural
6 [wo]man vs. self
7 [wo]man vs. god/religion

The Straight Dope cites several other numbers as the total number of basic plots, so there’s clearly plenty of room for debate.

But in terms of the total number of romance plots, Candy and I have come up with 12.

1. [wo]man vs. big misunderstanding
2. [wo]man vs. evil parents and conniving relatives
3. [wo]man vs. evil fiancé(e)
4. [wo]man vs. disparities in social standing
5. [wo]man vs. big secret (often, but not always, a baby)
6. [wo]man vs. massive sexual or physical trauma
7. [wo]man vs. trivial trauma that’s hyped up to appear much more serious than it is (OH MY GOD MY MOM WAS A COLD-HEARTED SLUT WAH WAH WAHHHHHHHHHH I WILL NOW HATE ANYTHING BEARING A VAGINA being a classic for many heroes)
8. [wo]man vs. emotionally constipated man
9. [wo]man vs. angsty undead or lunarly-hairy version of any of the above
10. [wo]man vs. high-powered/high-status male embracing all gender stereotypes and phallocentric expectations of women
11. [wo]man vs. serial killer who ends up wanting to rape and/or kill and/or eat the heroine, because the heroine, she is one tasty bitch
12. [wo]man vs. historically inappropriate urges to break free of societal mold by marrying… socially proper man (*note: can apply to gay romances as well as hetero romances)

Got any more?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Rhonda says:

    You owe me a new office chair, because I tinkled all over mine reading your story plots.

    Here are my additions:

    [wo]man vs. ugly version of self (i.e., MAKEOVER TIME so he/she can be worthy of someone’s love, only to find he/she was worth it all along. awwwwww…)

    [wo]man vs. pants (the eternal struggle to find perfect-fitting clothes)

  2. 2
    Kay Webb Harrison says:

    I think you have all possible plots covered.
    I can tell you the name of the “best-selling novel ever written.” It is also the first modern European novel: “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha.” It pleases me to be able to boast that I have read all of it, en español. Part I contains examples of the various literary genres popular in Spain in the late 16th century, in addition to the desventuras of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

    By the way, did you know that Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same date? Just imagine, two of the world’s greatest writers were contemporaries!


  3. 3
    Teddy Pig says:

    [wo]man vs. Poor self image and other various pop psychology problems?

  4. 4
    EmmyS says:

    No new ones, but really – all of yours fit the [wo]man vs. [wo]man plot line. I suppose the evil fiancé(e) could be [wo]man vs. supernatural, depending on how literally evil the fiancé(e)is…

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    By the way, did you know that Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same date?

    Fun fact for those of you following along in the audience: They died on the same date, but not on the same day. That’s because England was using the Julian Calendar in 1616, whereas Spain was using the Gregorian.

  6. 6
    Teddy Pig says:

    Would that be [wo]man vs. (Julian/Gregorian) date?

    I think I may have been on one of those.

  7. 7
    Charlene says:

    So Don Quixote would have been man vs. windmill?

  8. 8
    Candy says:

    Ha! Or man vs. psychotic break with reality.

  9. 9
    sleeky says:

    Doesn’t it basically all come down to: [wo]man and [wo]man fall in love, something keeps them apart, then it goes away and they live happily ever after?

  10. 10
    Lisa says:

    [wo]man vs. sapce/time gap seperating them from their One True Love. (I read a lot of time travel; so sue me.)

  11. 11

    (wo)man vs. asshole alpha she must rehabilitate to goodness via the purity of her …love.

    I guess that might just be a specific variant of vs emotionally constipated?

  12. 12
    Little Miss Spy says:

    woman vs. retail therapy : “I am so ugly and I neeedd these stilletos or I cannn’t be sexy and he will hate me, omg, I need to overdraw my cards!” type of heroines)

  13. 13

    Okay, I’m not getting into the plots question. It seems too much like a GRE thing. I have a question that I’ve been to lazy to post on Yahoo. Maybe someone here knows. (It’s a relative to the g-string question.)

    Why are t-shirts (or tee-shirts) called t-shirts (or tee-shirts)?



  14. 14
    Lisa says:

    Lucinda: Because they look like the letter T.

  15. 15

    I’ve done some work on Vladimir Propp and Georges Polti, so I’m LMAO right now!

  16. 16
    Meredith says:

    This might fall under wo(man) vs big secret, but lately I seem to have read a lot of these:

    wo(man) vs gay man or woman using them as a beard

  17. 17
    kimber says:

    I thought there were only two plots:

    – Protagonist strives to avoid change, but has change thrust upon him/her by others, environment, technology, etc.

    – Protagonist desires change but is constantly thwarted by others, environment, technology, etc.

    Or maybe those are the two main character arcs, not plots. Give me a break. I’m new to this.

  18. 18
    --E says:

    [wo]man vs. big city

    [wo]man vs. fiance’s evil ex

    [wo]man vs. rival political evildoer who desires him/her for sexual plaything and/or title to the throne

    [wo]man vs. their own stupidity

    [wo]man vs. the author’s cack-handed plot manipulation

    (Sorry, sorry…I’ve had too many cross my desk lately where I just wanted to smack the author upside the head.)

  19. 19
    Walt says:

    [wo]man vs. adult diapers that [s]he has to wear to drive all night to seek vengeance against rival who stole her married astronaut lover that just can’t stick to just one flavor of Tang?

  20. 20
    Kaite says:

    11. [wo]man vs. serial killer who ends up wanting to rape and/or kill and/or eat the heroine, because the heroine, she is one tasty bitch [quote]

    LOL!!! Oh, good grief, I’ve ruined yet another keyboard with the spewed tea!

    Have a care, people. It’s always tea time, somewhere in the world…. Thank the gods I started keeping towels in my desk!

  21. 21

    Lisa, when I first read your response I wondered which alphabet you were using to come up with t-shirts looking like the letter t. And then I drank a martini and it make perfect sense!


  22. 22
    Estelle Chauvelin says:

    Fun fact for those of you following along in the audience: They died on the same date, but not on the same day.

    Curses, Candy beat me to it.

    I think Don Quixote is character vs. author… I’ve a suspicion the knight of the woeful countenance was one of those characters who ran away with the plot a bit.  (Though not in a LKH, Cervantes buying him books, kind of way.)

  23. 23
    Madd says:

    … but where’s the amnesia?

  24. 24
    Amy E says:

    Madd, that’s [wo]man vs. huh?

    For the gay coming-out stories, there should definitely be man vs what what in the butt.

    And Estelle, thank sweet baby Jesus that Don Quixote didn’t get a dose of the ardeur.  Or however she spells that super-horny virus.  I don’t even want to imagine what what in the windmill.  *shudder*

  25. 25
    Estelle Chauvelin says:

    Amy E.:

    I only read the first Anita Blake book, but from what I’ve heard, LKH doesn’t even know how she spells that horny virus.

  26. 26
    Meredith says:

    God love you for mentioning LKH and that stupid ardeur thing. She’s got her own “standard plots”—
    anita vs guys wearing thigh high boots (related plot is anita vs guys wearing floofy shirts)
    anita vs STDs
    anita vs LKH’s desire to crank out three books a year

    (Sorry, I just read Mistral’s Kiss and am feeling a bit bitter about LKH right now)

  27. 27
    Ann says:

    I believe that G strings are named after the G string on a violin/guitar, but NOT because it’s the lowest—it’s because it’s the widest.

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