Christopher Booker writes that there are seven basic stories; seven plots. There is some disagreement about this which you can read about, and ultimately you can pick your position, but for the sake of this class, we’re going to deal with seven, because it’s a nice number and easy to remember.
Wikipedia has this information in their page on the topic (accessed October 2016).
The meta-plot begins with the anticipation stage, in which the hero is called to the adventure to come, This is followed by a dream stage, in which the adventure begins, the hero has some success, and has an illusion of invincibility. However, this is then followed by a frustration stage, in which the hero has his first confrontation with the enemy, and the illusion of invincibility is lost. This worsens in the nightmare stage, which is the climax of the plot, where hope is apparently lost. Finally, in the resolution, the hero overcomes his burden against the odds.
The Seven Basic Plots are the basics of plot-writing.
1. Overcoming the Monster
The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland.
Examples: Perseus, Theseus, Beowulf, Dracula, War of the Worlds, Nicholas Nickleby, The Guns of Navarone, Seven Samurai and its Western-style remake The Magnificent Seven (although both are re-iterations of Seven Against Thebes), the James Bond franchise, Star Wars: A New Hope, Halloween, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Shrek.
2. Rags to Riches
The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person.
3. The Quest
The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.
Examples: Iliad, The Pilgrim’s Progress, King Solomon’s Mines, Watership Down, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Land Before Time, One Piece, Indiana Jones, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
4. Voyage and Return
The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience.
Examples: Odyssey, Ramayana, Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Orpheus, The Time Machine, Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit, Brideshead Revisited, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Gone with the Wind, The Third Man, Chronicles of Narnia, Apollo 13, Labyrinth, Finding Nemo, Gulliver’s Travels, Spirited Away, Uncharted, The Wizard of Oz
Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. Booker makes sure to stress that comedy is more than humor. It refers to a pattern where the conflict becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event. Most romances fall into this category.
The protagonist is a hero with one major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally ‘good’ character.
Examples: Macbeth, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Carmen, Bonnie and Clyde, Jules et Jim, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, John Dillinger, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Death Note, Breaking Bad, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Hamlet
During the course of the story, an important event forces the main character to change their ways, often making them a better person.
Examples: The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Peer Gynt, Life Is a Dream, Despicable Me, Machine Gun Preacher, Megamind, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Source: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. The Seven Basic Plots. Wikipedia. Internet. Accessed 17 October 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Basic_Plots