Plot is the skeleton of your story. Without it, you have a big gooey pile of flesh and skin and eyeballs. Not so attractive. But insert some good bones into that baby and what a magnificent bone structure. Obviously, your story has to go somewhere or it's just a stranded hobo. Who wants to read about a stranded hobo? Now, if the stranded hobo hitches a ride with a group of nuns on a road trip to Las Vegas, however, I'm in. But how do you come up with a plot that isn't completely regurgitated?
Think about it: how many books have been published in history? Think they are all completely original and have no resemblance whatsoever to any other books?
There are really only seven different types of original plot lines that I've found floating around in the world of fiction, and they have each been used over and over and over again. The way you twist them, the characters involved, and the settings you put them in are what make a story unique.
Just remember that there isn't really a secret formula for a good plot. The famous authors of the world don't convene in dimly lit caves draped in robes of awesomeness and cackle deviously about being the select few with the secret recipe. (Actually, this may happen. As I am not anything close to a famous author, I have not been trusted with this kind of information) It's all in the telling, as they say.
Here are the seven different forms of plot I have come across. Feel free to twist them as you see fit. If you know of another that I haven't included, by all means share it here.
Seven Examples of Plot Design
1. Rags to Riches
Think Cinderella. A character begins at the bottom of the totem pole. Throughout many trials and tribulations that show off their strength of character, they rise to the top. This type of plot design works well because everyone can relate to it. I think it's safe to say that we all dream of climbing to the top, whether it be in a social circle, workplace, or society in general.
2. Boy Meets Girl (or the other way around)
The classic love story. Two people meet. They want to be together, and we want it for them. Crazy things happen that pull them apart, but hopefully they end up together. Even if it isn't a fairy tale happy ending, the love needs to be believable and there needs to be tension. I have read many a novel lately that adopted the "InstaLove" mentality and it felt completely unrealistic. A reader should feel their need to be together and their despair when they're apart.
3. Coming of Age
This is a very popular concept among fiction, because it is something we all go through. Coming of age can be in the literal sense, as a child grows into an adult, or in more of an emotional sense, as a character transforms through hardship, loss, or even success. The Harry Potter series is a prime example of both.
4. Fall of the Corrupt
I really like this one. There is something very rewarding to me about a bad person being brought to justice. I can't be the only one, either. Look how popular books like The Hunger Games are.
5. The Making of a Hero
You take a hoagie. Add some salami, turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce, whatever floats your boat. Just kidding. But really, this example is another of my favorites, because I find myself rooting for the reluctant hero all the time. The protagonist may start out hesitant and powerless, but by the end of the story they find themselves saving the day. I know I already used this example, but Harry Potter is a shining model of the reluctant hero.
6. There's No Place Like Home
The protagonist wants nothing more than to leave their small town behind in a cloud of dust and dive head-first into the big bright world. But situations arise that cause the big epiphany and they wind up missing what they started out with. The Wizard of Oz exemplifies this to a "T".
Someone works to open the heart of a closed off old hermit. Ok, it doesn't have to be a hermit, but you get the idea. There is a damaged heart, or several damaged hearts, and someone tries to save them. I especially like the example of Chocolat, which shows that it could be a whole community of people being saved, instead of just one person.