Basic Plot Structures: Polti's 36

In the modern day world, people want information presently quickly, efficiently, and often broken down into bit-size, easily digestible pieces, which might be why a lot of modern literary analysts and theorists try to break down their basic major plot arcs they try to do so with 10 or less. Kurt Vonnegut laid out eight while Christopher Booker began with seven, but eventually brought the number up to nine. Literature and analytics professor Dr. Matthew Jockers hit on six as did another literary analysis done by computer systems. And then there is American-born French writer Georges Polti who in 1916 suggested a total of 36 plot archetypes.

Certainly, a lot of things have been condensed over time as society, criticism, and theory have whittled down things to the essentials. The aim of many modern literary analysis is to fit as much into as few categories as possible. By making categories more broad, it is also easier to fit more things into them. However, Polti was writing in a different age and for a different audience. When his list of 36 structures was published, World War I was raging across Europe, film was just emerging as a method of narrative storytelling, and James Joyce was about to publish his first novel. While many of Polti’s categories may seem overly narrow or terribly similar today, it is important to remember that this was also an early work into the definition of plot archetypes. And as always, there is always something here for writers to learn.


Polti’s list of thirty-six dramatic solutions is allegedly not the first such work. In fact, Polti himself said that his study of dramatic solutions was based on German writer and critic Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s own literary analysis of plot structure. Polti said von Goethe had also hit on a total of thirty-six dramatic solutions. Best known for his works The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust, von Goethe was part of the German Romantic-era literary movement known as Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”), and Polti said von Goethe had supported the idea of thirty-six plot structures against the arguments of fellow Sturm und Drang movement figure Friedrich Schiller.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, left, and Carlo Gozzi, right, were both said to have provided inspiration for the list of 36 dramatic structures Polti published in his 1916 book.

While Polti claims in his introduction that he discovered the solutions based on von Goethe’s writing of them, he also admits that von Goethe is not the originator of the concept. That title goes to Carlo, Count Gozzi - better known as Carlo Gozzi - an Italian dramatist who lived about a century before von Goethe. As Gozzi had left little information as to his presumption of there being thirty-six dramatic structures, Polti said it was up to von Goethe to better define those structures.

Going on von Goethe’s model, Polti himself then better defined these 36 structures for the modern age. Polti based his own analysis on classical Greek drama and literature, a large amount of classical and contemporary pieces of French literature, and a handful of non-French literature. In his text, Polti said he analyzed about 200 pieces of literature for his work. These included dramatic works from China, India, the Middle East, and a few Spanish, Italian, and German authors as well as works from the Romantic period. Polti also seems satisfied that his work is a definitive less and that there can be thirty-six dramatic plots, no more and no less.

The Dramatic Structures


The act of begging earnestly or humbly for something, supplication plots usually revolve around a character with a great need. Polti defines this structure as requiring at least three important features: a supplicant, a persecutor, and a powerful decision maker. The basic break down of the plot is that the supplicant - usually the protagonist - needs something from someone else - the powerful decision maker - to escape the wrath of the persecutor.

Often times, the powerful decision maker will then ask the supplicant to complete a task in return. The persecutor can be a character or situation that the supplicant needs protection from. The fact that the protagonist is coming from a place of weakness, a place from which they need to beg for aid, also creates sympathy among the audience. Polti broke down this basic plot further into three main categories each with their own common plot structures.

Portrait of Molière as “Julius Cesar”

The first typically deals with people who have done wrong or gone against social beliefs who are now seeking redemption or peace, such as a fugitive seeking protection from pursuers or a person who has been exiled asking to return home to die. The second category deals with people who are difficult situations, not always of their own making, who need help. This includes victims of a shipwreck in need of help, people who have been cast off seeking safety, the willing return of an item or artifact to its proper place, or someone who needs healing or deliverance. The third category revolves around family-related supplications, such as giving oneself to the powerful to protect loved ones or supplicating to the wills of family members.


Presented by Polti as the opposite of the supplication plot form, the deliverance archetype features a character who needs to be saved. The three main figures in this story are the threatened, the threaner, and the rescuer with the rescuer saving the threatened from the threatener. Polti points out that sometimes this story is told from the point of view of the person who is doing the rescuing and sometimes from the point of view of the person who is being rescued. This plot plays on the audience’s need for catharsis because of the relief experienced at the arrival of the threatened person in safety.

Perseus saving Andromeda, 1596, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Here, Polti outlines three varieties on the deliverance theme. The first is the appearance of a rescuer just at the moment of the threatened figure’s condemnation, such as when Perseus arrived at the last minute to save Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus. A second is when a child who has previously been abandoned by a powerful parent then replaces that parent, delivering justice and other figures from the parent’s cruelty. Polti’s third version is the rescue of a figure by friends or strangers leading to unexpected hospitality. Polti finds sources for this third version in many of the chivalric tales of the Middle Ages where many knightly figures find reprieve from their antagonists by being offered shelter or safety.

Vengeance of a Crime

Revenge and vengeance are common themes in literature, often depicting situations where the law is immoral or doesn’t deliver justice as intended. Polti says two figures feature in this storyline: the Avenger and the Criminal, or the person doing the avenging versus the person or persons they feel are responsible for doing wrong upon them. He also divides this plot archetype into three major sections dealing with similar types of plots that revolve around stories of vengeance and revenge.

Inigo Montoya seeks revenge for his murdered father

The first series of plots largely deal with wrongs committed against family members, close friends, or basically a person who is seeking vengeance or revenge on behalf of a wrong committed against another person. These plots include avenging a slain parent or ancestor, avenging a slain child or descendant, avenging a dishonored child, avenging a slain spouse or sexual partner, avenging a dishonored spouse or sexual partner, seeking vengeance for a slain friend or seeking vengeance for a sister who has been seduced or raped.

The second series of plots have to do with a person who is seeking revenge or vengeance for themselves, usually because they have been wronged in some way. These plots include a person seeking revenge for an intentional injury against their person both in the sense of a physical injury or an injury that resulted in the loss of opportunity, finances, or success, which he says is exemplified by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The second is vengeance for having been despoiled during an absence, like the way Penelope seeks vengeance on the suitors that come for her believing her husband Odysseus is dead. Another plot line is revenge upon a whole sex for deception of one person, such as the goals of Mrs. Havisham in Great Expectations. Other personal vengeance plot lines include seeking revenge for an attempted saying, seeking revenge for a personal violation such as rape or incest, and seeking revenge for a false accusation.

To seek revenge for being left at the altar, Mrs. Havisham takes in Pip with the sole intention of raising him to have his heart broken as her own was. This type of revenge against an entire sex for the wrongs allegedly committed by one is also a frequent behavior exhibited by serial killers.

The second series of plots have to do with a person who is seeking revenge or vengeance for themselves, usually because they have been wronged in some way. These plots include a person seeking revenge for an intentional injury against their person both in the sense of a physical injury or an injury that resulted in the loss of opportunity, finances, or success, which he says is exemplified by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The second is vengeance for having been despoiled during an absence, like the way Penelope seeks vengeance on the suitors that come for her believing her husband Odysseus is dead.

Another plot line is revenge upon a whole sex for deception of one person, such as the goals of Mrs. Havisham in Great Expectations. Other personal vengeance plot lines include seeking revenge for an attempted saying, seeking revenge for a personal violation such as rape or incest, and seeking revenge for a false accusation. Poltis also outlines a third type of vengeance themed plot where the person seeking justice or revenge is doing so in a professional capacity, such as working as a detective or bounty hunter. In this capacity, the avenger character is not seeking to bring to justice a person who has done wrong because that person or criminal has done them wrong personally but rather out of a larger sense of moral justice and order.

Vengeance Taken for Kindred upon Kindred

While one might see this as something that could have been fit into the earlier vengeance category, Polti felt this plot archetype deserved to be separated out. One of the reasons for this separation is because this type of vengeance is also more of a family drama than just an outright vengeance plot. Also, society often sees crimes against blood relatives as especially heinous as families are supposed to be linked together by close bonds. For this plot, Polti said an avenging kinsman, a guilty kinsman, and a third family member as well as a period of remembrance for the slain family member is needed. In this plot, the guilty kinsman harms the victim who is then punished for this transgression by an avenging kinsman.

"Rosamund" by Pietro della Vecchia. According to legend, Rosamund was forced to marry the man who killed her father and then tries to murder her new husband in revenge.

Variants of this plot include a child taking revenge on a parent for killing the other parent, a child killing an aunt or uncle for murdering their parent, a father killing his daughter’s husband for killing her, or a woman killing her husband for killing her father. Many of these plots in Polti’s description tend to involve a person taking revenge against a kinsperson of the same sex for a murder or crime perpetrated against a kinsperson of the opposite sex. In modern settings, the “family” may not be necessarily those with blood ties but family-type groups such as the mafia or a close circle of people who have a family type bond.


The pursuit storyline involves two figures: the punishment and the fugitive. This story usually revolves around the fugitive trying escape punishment, usually a punishment that is injust. This can be a fugitive who is blamed for something they did not do - such as in the Harrison Ford film - or characters like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables who are fleeing punishment for breaking what most see as an injust law. While similar to the “Vengeance for a Crime” plot line, the difference in these two plot lines is who the audience is supposed to side with. In “Vengeance for a Crime,” the fugitive is usually someone deserving of punishment while in the “Pursuit,” the fugitive is usually someone who themselves has been wronged and the justice system is seen as the antagonist.

Many of the Hulk comics focus on Bruce Banner trying to escape those who would punish or control him.

Polti specifically outlines four different pursuit scenarios he sees commonly in literature. One is a person who is a fugitive from justice for political or religious reasons, such as someone who has found themselves on the wrong side of a political person or is been persecuted for their beliefs. The second is a person who is being pursued because of love, mainly because they have fallen in love with someone they weren't supposed to. The third is a hero struggling against some sort of supernatural or goldy power while the fourth is a person who may or may not be mad being pursued by some sort of figure who has a grudge against them and the evidence or ability to put them into psychiatric confinement. As Polti was writing with psychology was still in its infancy, this plot type is not deeply defined.


Rather than what you might expect from the plot of a disaster film, Polti’s definition of disaster isn’t until the riches to rags type story found in other analysis of plot types. Polti’s definition includes the overthrow of powerful figures, the raising up of the weak, and generally fear, catastrophe, and the unforeseen but great reversal of roles. Elements of this type include a vanquished power, a victorious enemy, and a messenger, all centered around a calamitous event. He also lays out four distinct plot types that fall into this larger archetype.

"The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy" by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

The first set are typically the destruction of a community, country or civilization. These include a defeat suffered in battle such as the Persians versus the Spartans, the destruction of a homeland, the fall of humanity itself, or a natural catastrophe such as a volcano or earthquake that destroys a community. The second type is the overthrow of a monarchy or leader wherein the original authority is defeated and subverted with all of that leader’s followers also losing their positions.

The third set of disaster plots involve personal disasters, including the suffering of an ingratitude, the suffer or an unjust punishment or enmity, and an outrage. While suffering an ingratitude and an outrage may seem similar, Polti defines them differently. to his mind, an ingratitude is similar to the stories of martyrs, people whose devotion and sacrifice make their deaths triumphs rather than tragedies, thereby subverting attempts to make them suffer or cast them as villains. An outrage suffered is more when a person’s sense of personal honor is damaged, often unjustly, and the person dies tragically or loses out on what should have been their personal success or glory because of a wrong committed against them unjustly.

The fourth set of disaster plots involve familiar relations and include the abandonment by a lover and the loss of children by their parents. Polti casts these as two of the biggest relationship disasters that can happen and points out how the ancient Greeks often told stories where children were lost or taken away to be the ultimate symbol of tragedy and regret. Polti outlines the purpose of the disaster plot as not only playing on our emotions by making us imagine how we as an audience would deal with the situation but also as a type of plot that makes the audience grateful they have not experienced the tragedy of the story.

Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune

The seventh of Polti’s dramatic structures involves an unfortunate - usually an innocent character - and a master or a misfortune. In this plot, the unfortunate character is harmed either by accidental misfortune or the deliberate act of a master. As the character who is experiencing misfortune is innocent or naive and did not bring misfortune upon themselves, the audience experiences sympathy for the character. Sometimes, the unfortunate experienced is something physical and something it is a mental or psychological misfortune, such as the loss of hope.

Polti lists five variants of this structure in his text. The first is an innocent who is the victim of an ambitious intrigue, or a person who is used for the ambitions of others, often at their own misfortune or without realizing they are playing a part in these ambitions. The second is an innocent who has been despoiled or corrupted by the very people charged with protecting them.

The fourth and fifth structure Polti ties together: the powerful dispossessed and wretched or a favorite or intimate finds himself forgotten. In the first situation, a person in a position of power is often taken advantage of by those they intended to help while the second is a person who helps someone rise to power only to be left behind despite their aid. The last of the variants is an innocent person robbed of their hope.


"Liberty Leading the People"

The two elements of this plot structure are a tyrant and a conspirator, and thought not necessarily specified by Polti himself, some type of intrigue is also always present in this plot type as well. The summary of the plot structure at its bare bones is a conspirator leading or contributing to a revolt against a tyrant, usually an oppressive one. Typically, the revolution plot is done to evoke sympathy for those who are doing the overthrowing not the overthrown as opposed so some of Polti’s similar structures that deal with government overthrow.

Polti lists two major variants of this story. The first is one that is focused on the conspiracy, which he defines as a closed-door plan involving either one or several individuals to overthrow the tyrant. The contrast is the revolt, which Polti defines as an open rebellion either done as a group or at the behest of a single individual who then influences and involves others into the revolt as well.

Daring Enterprise

The daring enterprise plot structure requires a bold leader who is willing to take risks, an object or objective that leader is attempting to acquire, and an adversary who is trying to stop the leader and their supporters from achieving their goals. Polti outlines how this is a commonly seen plot because the achievement of the characters echos our own need for achievement and gives the audience its own sense of accomplishment and encouragement to go after difficult goals.

HMS Erebus

The first set of plot variants of this structure have to deal with conflict. The first is the preparation for a war, such as the call to the Crusades or several ancient works where the events leading up to war were dramatized rather than the actual conflict itself. The second version of this variant is the dramatization of war itself and the third is the dramatization of combat rather than an entire war.

The second set of variants deal with the attainment of an object or objective. The first is the carrying off or capture of a desired person or object while the second is the recapture of a desired object or objective that has been taken. The third set of variants are both centered around adventure. The first is an adventures expedition, usually for the sake of the adventure itself or for some other goal, while the second is the adventure undertaken for the purpose of obtaining a beloved woman, either a rescue of a romantic figure or doing deeds that prove a character is worthy of a romance.


Polti notes that the abduction storyline often plays on feelings of jealousy and rivalry, often in a romantic setting. For this structure, the needed elements are an abductor, an abductee, and a guardian. In the basic version of the plot, the abductee is taken by the abductor and then the guardian is charged with rescuing the abductee. The first four variants of this plot archetype Polti lays out deal with women and typically romance-related abductions while the final two are often unrelated to romance.

In the case of a romance-related abduction, Polti says the abductee must either be cast as unwilling to be abducted or as someone who has consented to go along with the abductor, such as Helen of Troy. The second variant deals with what happens to the person doing the abduction. In some stories, the abductor is killed for their crimes while in others the person who has been abducted is returned safely without encountering or punishing the abductor. Often times, Polti points out, the murder of an abductor was a signal to audiences that the abductor had perpetrated some sort of ravishment or rape upon the person who was abducted while allowing the abductor to live was a symbol that this had not happened.

Historic escapes and dungeon breaks are part of this plot type

The three other variants of the story deal with non-romantic abduction plots. The first is the rescue of a friend or ally who has been captured by the enemy. The second is the rescue of a child that has been taken captive or prisoner, sometimes the child of a protagonist and sometimes the child of a person the protagonist is employed by. The third is the rescue of a person who was placed into captivity by error, such as a person who is wrongfully imprisoned.


The Riddler

This dramatic structure involves characters having to solve some sort of puzzle, riddle, or maze to obtain their objectives. Polti says the structure calls for an interrogator, a seeker and a problem. The interrogator - usually the antagonist - poses a problem or puzzle that the seeker must them solve. Polti says that the reason why this plot structure is successful is because it piques the curiosity of the reader who also tries to solve the problem as well as shows a thrilling combat of the mind. Often times, elements of death and temptation are also incorporated into this plot point to throw the seeker off their game.

In fact, the first three plot variants Polti lists have an element of death to them. The first involves the seeker having to find a person before that person is killed, adding an element of danger to the puzzle. The second is where the seeker has to solve the riddle before the seeker themselves is killed, often because the person has been trapped by the interrogator. The third is where the seeker is posed a riddle by an interrogator who is a woman either scorned or wanting to seduce the seeker, usually with the seeker’s life hanging in the balance. This is somewhat of a woman scorned type plot.

The final three variants Polti lists are more about the discovery than the danger posed by the puzzle. The first is the temptation offered with the object of discovery his name - such as in Rumpelstiltskin. The second is temptations offered with the object of ascertaining the sex, such as solving a puzzle that leads to a romantic interest. The third is tests for the purpose of ascertaining the mental condition, a test in which the interrogator is attempting to prove whether they or the seeker is the smarter one.


The overall theme of this plot structure involves a disagreement that cannot be easily resolved. It requires either a solicitor and an adversary or an arbitrator and opposing partners. One storyline revolves around a person requesting something of an adversary who then refused to cooperate. The second is when two people cannot come to a solution to an arbitrator is brought in to settle the question for them. Often times, what starts out as a smaller interpersonal conflict can lead to a much larger conflict, necessitating the quick resolution of the problem to the point both parties are satisfied with the outcome. Polti outlines three main versions of the obtaining structure.

The first is when the solicitor, unable to overcome the adversary on their own, uses a ruse or force to obtain the object they have requested. The second is when persuasive eloquence or a good argument finally convinces the adversary to relinquish whatever they are keeping. The third type is the plot point that involves arbitration. These plots usually don’t have much physical conflict in them, especially as the overall goal is usually to avoid physical conflict between the two parties. As a result, means of cunning or subterfuge are often used to achieve the end goal.

Enmity of a Kinsman

Many of Polti’s plots have familial relationships as a major plot point, just like family dramas and conflicts have played out for centuries in both literature and real life. For this plot structure, the two elements are are two relatives with a hatred of each other. Often times, one relative has a deeper hatred or more reason to hate than the other. Polti outlines that the closely bound lines of kinship can create intense emotion when other family members are forced to choose sides. He also points out that the information available to other kin about the situation or who they perceive to be the more hurt party can also add to the drama of the situation. Finally, he points out that this conflict is rooted in some sort of powerful discord that is strong enough to break even the closest of family ties.

The Borgias

Polti lays out several examples of this enmity plot line. The first is hatred of brothers, usually one brother hated by several others such as in the biblical tale of Joseph. The second is a reciprocal hatred between brothers, a typical sibling rivalry. The third is a hatred between relatives for reasons of self-interest, such as one relative being more successful than another or achieving something another relative had wanted. Next is the hatred or rivalry of a father and son followed by a mutual hatred, which Polti describes sometimes as a nuanced hatred that is begun of a simple disagreement.

The hatred of daughter for father sometimes is rooted in romantic tension, either because the father will not permit a suitor or to subtly hint that the daughter is attempting to escape sexual lust from her father. The hatred of a grandfather and grandson is often used to dramatize the conflicts between different generations with different viewpoints. Polti also puts conflicts with in-laws into the enmity plot line with conflicts between a father-in-law and his son-in-law, conflicts between two brothers-in-law, and conflicts between a mother-in-law for her daughter-in-law. The final example he provides is a plot involving infanticide or the killing of children.

In the text, Polti admits that he could spend a lifetime laying out all of the different family dynamics that could cause conflict as well as all of the reasons that families come into conflicts that can leave long and lasting scars on generations. He points out the difference between conflict with kin and that with friends is that one is always connected to family through blood and that family has an early and lasting psychological impact on a person. He also says there are social ramifications a family can experience when inner turmoils become apparent to society at large.

Rivalry between Kinsmen

While this plot point may seem like an offshoot of the above, Polti distinguishes this plot structure by adding a third character into the works. Another difference is that the above plot structure usually shows much of the aftermath of two kinsmen being driven apart while a lot of this one focuses on the initial driving apart and its consequences. For this plot, Polti says a preferred kindman, a rejected kinsman, and an object are needed. The plot usually revolves around two relatives who are competing for an object, often a person such as a romantic interest, with one kinsman being chosen and the other being rejected.

There are three main categories of this type of rivalry Polti outlines. The first have to do with sibling rivalry and relationships. This can include a sibling rivalry where only one of the siblings is aware there is a rivalry going on, a rivalry where both siblings are involved and actively participating, and a rivalry between two siblings that ends in adultery on the part of one sibling and the other sibling’s spouse.

The second set of variants deal with rivalries between parents and children, often with a bit of Oedipal and Electra complex thrown in for good measure. The first is the rivalry between a parent and a child for an unmarried lover. The second is the rivalry between a parent and child for a married lover, either the lover of the child the parent of the same sex is after or a new stepparent the child is lusting after. The third is the rivalry between a parent and child for the love and interest of the other parent. For the fourth set of variants, Polti lays out plots that involve the rivalry between cousins and the rivalry between friends, often friends who are close enough to be siblings.

Murderous Adultery

Requiring two adulterers and a betrayed spouse, Polti points out that this is a plot that is hard to make the audience sympathize with. Adultery is a concept that violates social, cultural, and religious norms as well as creates more sympathy for the person who has been betrayed rather than the person doing the betraying. He also points out that the attempt to cover up the initial act of deceit - the adultery - can led to a more tangled web of lies and crimes. While this situation is often a tragic one and usually has a storyline without a real hero in it, Polti points out that cases where the adultery is the result of abuse or mistreatment at the hands of the betrayed spouse is sometimes seen as more forgivable by audience members.

Polti points out that there are three main ways that this type of plot is usually presented. The first is the person who slays their spouse for a lover, sometimes because the lover has asked them to and other times because they are trying to protect their lover in some way. The second is the slaying of a trusted lover, either the spouse who did the betraying being killed by their spouse or lover or the lover being killed by the betrayed spouse. The final variant is the slaying of a paramour in self-interest. Often times, this third plot involves the adulterous spouse being seduced by their lover who has some sort of grudge against the betrayed spouse who then uses the lover to get back at their spouse.


While this might seem like a rather broad topic, Polti rather narrowly defines this plot as a person becoming temporarily mad and then harming a victim with the madman and the victim being the two plot elements needed for this story. These plots are usually propelled by a loss of rational thinking on the part of a character and often taken a psychological look into humanity and what human beings are capable of when they no longer apply ration to their thoughts and actions. Often times, this plot also emphasizes a loss of control or a sort of out-of-body experience where a character acts in a way they normally wouldn’t.

Sitting Congressman Daniel Edgar Sickles was the first person in the U.S. to try and use a defense of temporary insanity.

The first three variants deal with the character who has gone made directly killing another person as a result of their temporary insanity. This can be a kinsman, a lover, or a person they otherwise have no ill will toward in a fit of rage. Temporary insanity as definitely a concept when Polti was writing his book, but it wasn't necessarily something that was also considered legally defensible in court systems at the time.

While the ancient Greeks had a concept of temporary insanity in their court system, the concept didn’t really catch on in Western law until much later. Early on, a person had to prove that they were completely insane and not just at the time of an offense to be declared temporarily insane. By the 1800s, a person could be released on an insanity plea if they could prove they were insane at the time even if they had received treatment sense in some cases, but the concept of temporary insanity didn’t really began to catch on until the mid-1900s, well after Polti’s book was first published.

There are three other variants that do not deal with murder that also fall into this category, according to Polti. The first is a person who brings themselves under disgrace because of their madness, such as becoming a social pariah or committing heinous acts they ordinarily wouldn’t, often finding themselves cast out in addition to suffering from mental illness.

The second is when a person’s madness indirectly contributes to the death or loss of a loved one, such as when Hamlet's own struggles led to the deal of Ophelia or how King Lear's descent into madness contributes to the downfall of his family. The third deals with somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that a character knows madness runs in their family and ends up bringing about their own madness because of fears they have of going mad. There is often a preoccupation and fear of madness among those who know that certain psychological disorders run in their family, especially as stories like that of Henry VI and King George III had shown society the dangers of madness running in family.

Fatal Imprudence

This plot point typically involves a character making a simple or silly mistake that ends up having severe consequences for all involved. Polti says this structure requires an imprudent character and either a victim or an object that has been lost or misplaced. This dramatic structure usually involves the imprudent character either losing an object of great importance or perpetrating harm against another person through their own thoughtlessness or curiosity. Sometimes, Polti said another figure is also added in known as a “counsellor” who attempts to sway the imprudent character away from their foolish or careless nature. Others involved in the story may include witnesses to the thoughtlessness of the character or secondary and tertiary victims who find themselves in trouble because of the chain of events the central character’s imprudence has set into motion.

The first three examples of this Polti offers are stories wherein the character’s impudence causes pain to themselves. This can be imprudence that causes a personal misfortune or personal dishonor as well as a sort of curiosity killed the cat plotline where a person’s sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong leads to their own downfall. Polti also lumps in with these a fourth situation in which a person’s curiosity leads them to losing something valuable, usually a possession of a loved one.

The remaining examples deal with death that is a direct result of one character’s impudence or curiosity. The first is where by finding out something they aren’t supposed to know, the character somehow contributes to the death of another person. Other plots include a character’s foolishness or imprudence leading to the death of a lover or relative while the fourth is where a character who doesn’t believe information they are presented with causes the death of a kinsman or loved one because of their incredulity.

Involuntary Crimes of Love

While murderous adultery deals with someone that commits crimes or acts they ordinarily wouldn’t because of love, the involuntary crimes of love describe what is typically referred to as incest or psychologically as genetic sexual attraction. Basically, this is any and all plots where two people fall in love only to realize that they are related or that the person they have had relations with is not the person they thought it was. One of the tragedies outlined in this type of plot is that love, an act that is thought to be pure and good, is corrupted into something sinister and taboo.

The first set of variants largely deal with people having romances with people they did not know were related, ex. Oedipus again. These can include romantic relationships with parents, children, or siblings, and occasionally there is an element to this plot that involves some nefarious plotting by someone who knows these two strangers are related and brings them together for their own sadistic purposes.

The second set of variants involve either almost or completely committing adultery without knowing it. Several examples of this are found in Greek myths where figures like Zeus take the form of a woman’s husband to seduce her. Arthurian myth is also based on this story where Uther Pendragon convinces Merlin to turn him into his enemy so he can sleep with his enemies wife, producing the infant Arthur.

Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized

Another one of Polti’s dramatic structures with a family theme, this story involves a character who causes the death of a family member without realizing it, adding to the family drama by realizing the choices they made led to the death of a loved one. This plot includes a slayer and an unrecognized victim. Either the slayer kills or nearly kills the victim, who then is revealed to be a friend or relative of the slayer. As a result, an act that may have seen justice on behalf of the slayer beforehand now appears unjustified to the audience or even to the person perpetrating the slaying themselves.

Like before, Polti has a never-ending list of different relatives one might accidentally kill as well as a lot reasons why this killing might be set into motion. He outlines daughters, sons, siblings, parents, grandparents, in-laws, and lovers as among the most common varieties of characters these unwitting acts are perpetrated against. It is this close relationship that adds the extra tragedy to a situation where the perpetrator learns a particularly painful lesson, often time leading to the character re-examining their own ideas about justice or righteousness or the side they have taken.

In the Bible, Abraham is commissioned by god to offer his only child up as a sacrifice

Motivations for this killing can be the result of divine command, political necessity, a rivalry in love, hatred of a person’s lover, jealousy, conspiracy or political instigations, in anger, through a professional duty, or just generally involuntarily. The professional duty often encompasses scenes of war where two relatives find themselves on the opposite side of a conflict only to unwittingly face each other in battle. An additional tension might be added to the story because the relative who is the victim may be aware of the relationship and tries to warn the perpetrator but too late to do so.

Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal

One of several plots Polti outlines that deals with sacrifice, this plot doesn’t necessarily require a character to give up their life per se but does require them to give up something of personal importance for a reason. Both of these plots have three main figures: a hero, an ideal, and a creditor or something that is sacrificed. As stated in the name, this version has the main character giving up something or someone to uphold an idea or concept they believe. For a lot of history, a person who is willing to die or give up something important to them for their beliefs not only demonstrates their devotion to that belief but also their personal integrity. Personal sacrifice is often a key marker of faith, despite the fact that human nature sometimes makes us feel that giving things up in this manner is useless or foolhardy.

The first four variants involve the exchange of a character’s life to protect or preserve something they believe in. This can be the characters personal honor or integrity, to benefit their people or countrymen, as a gesture of filial piety or or to honor family, and for religious reasons, such as those of the Christian martyrs.

The second set of variants involve the sacrifice often of love, often in conjunction with life as well. This can be a sacrifice of love and life for a religious belief, the sacrifice of love and life for a cause one believes in, or sacrificing the chance at love for the betterment of mankind or the state. Other examples of personal sacrifice for an ideal that Polti outlines includes sacrifice of well-being for duty, such as the runner from Marathon who exhausted himself to death alerting Athens that a victory had been one in battle. Another is where the ideal of “honor” is sacrificed to the ideal of “faith.” This is sometimes a personal sacrifice that is made in vain or has elements of divine forgiveness wherein a person strays from their beliefs but is ultimately brought back into the fold through some sort of sacrifice.

Self-sacrifice for Kindred

The previous self-sacrifice plot structure involved a character who sacrifices something for an ideal or concept. This similar plot structure involves the sacrifice done for another person rather than something intangible. Just as before, the main points are a hero, a kinsman, and a creditor or person or object that is sacrificed. Typically, the hero gives up something of great personal value in order to help a loved, often times in a life or death type situation. Like many of Polti’s other structures, this one also plays on themes of human relationships and familial ties with the intent of showing these bonds between people stronger than material wealth or personal goods.

Polti divides this plot structure into three major variants. The first set of variants deal with the character sacrificing their life for another person, either to preserve the life of a relative or loved one or to ensure the happiness of a relative or loved one. A person may also sacrificed their life and their honor for the life of a loved one, usually a parent in many stories. The second variant includes a person who sacrifices their personal ambitions for another person, whether that ambition is sacrificed to protect the life of a loved one or because that ambition makes the loved one unhappy.

The final set of variants deal with love and sex. This could be love sacrificed for the life of a loved one, love sacrifice for the happiness of a loved one, or sacrificing one's own modesty for the life of a loved one. One variant that Polti posits is a person who sacrifices love for another person based on an unjust situation or unjust laws, such as giving up a loved person who would be brought down by the social, political, or economic stature of another. The purpose of most of thee variants defined in this self-sacrifice character are used to reaffirm our social codes and mores as well as emphasize the idea that family and loved ones should be put first over other things.

All Sacrificed for a Passion

The above plot structure usually involves some character giving up something for a loved one’s edification or life. This structure involves a person giving up other things for romance or sometimes just sex. While it may seem that sacrificing everything for love is a noble thing to do, this plot point proves that sometimes, a person who thinks they are giving things up for love is actually being duped out of what they have in the name of mere sexual desire and passion rather than anything lasting or true.

This plot point often examines the difference between love and lust as well as how far human beings will go to achieve the objects of their desire. Often times, these plots involve people breaking social or moral taboos or promises they have made in order to acquire the object of their desire. For this plot, a love, an object of passion - usually fatal passion - and a person or thing to be sacrificed are required. Typically, the lover is impassioned by the object of their passion to the point they give up something or someone of value, usually resulting in consequences.

The first two variants Polti outlines lead to a betrayal of religion as a result of passion. This usually involves a vow of chastity being broken because of sexual desire or a vow of purity, such as a vow of marriage or betrothal, being broken by someone who is not the betrothed. These plots often then end in tragedy, with the person who has sacrificed their purity realizing what they were after wasn't really love and they have then loss what really was of value in their life, such as honor or a loved one. Others highlight how uninhibited desire can lead to personal downfall, such as ruining one’s future, political position or sense of power, ruining one's health or leading to death, and ruining one’s fortune, reputation, and honor.

Other plot variants focus on how going down the primrose path of desire can led a person’s morals askew. This can be from temptations destroying a person’s sense of duty, honor or religious pity or the destruction of a person’s reputation, fortune, and ultimate death either because of erotic vices or because those romantic vices have then introduced the character to other vices that are then their ultimate downfall. There is often a theme of a person falling in love with a person from “the wrong crowd” who often then leads them on a spiraling downfall of sin and vice, often as a parable to encourage moral behavior.

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones

Whereas previous plot lines brought in the importance of sacrificing things of worth or material goods to protect loved ones and family, this sacrifice plot structure deals in the opposite. It is here that the hero makes the agonizing choice to dispatch a loved one for the greater good. The elements of the story include a conflicted hero, a beloved victim, and a situation that makes the sacrifice of this loved one necessary for the greater good of mankind.

Often times, the relative that is being sacrificed is a female one, usually a daughter, in traditional stories. Whereas the other plot chooses love over duty, this is where duty is chosen over love. The hero must violate family ties and deeply held beliefs about love and relationships for what are usually political or religious reasons. While any relative can be put into this situation, Polti notes that daughters, children, and fathers are the most common objects of sacrifice in the literature he has explored. Sometimes, this sacrifice is brought on because this person has violated a law and it is the duty of the relative to punish lawbreakers. Other reasons can include religious commandment for the sacrifice, proving one’s faith, to cement a vow, for the public good, for the sake of reputation, or because of necessity, such as sacrificing one relative so that the rest may live.

Rivalry of Superior and Inferior

This plot point sets a champion versus an underdog in a fight or either a person or object they both covet. This story often involves elements of jealousy and envy as well as greed but is often times more ceremonial than emotional in nature. These are typically also David versus Goliath situations where one rival has more power, ability, or influence than the other to obtain whatever is the subject of the rivalry, often times making the audience root for the character who does not have any sort of superior advantage.

Polti also breaks these down not into the objects the rivalry are over but rather into the divisions of power between the rivals. These rivalries include a mortal versus an immortal, a rivalry between two immortals of unequal power, the rivalry of a person with supernatural powers and a person without, a rivalry between a conqueror and a conquered person, rivalry of a victor and the vanquished, rivalry of a citizen and a banished or exiled person, rivalry between a high king and his vassal king, the rivalry between a ruler and a member of the nobility, a rival between a powerful person and an upstart, a rival between a rich person and a poor person, a rivalry between an honorable man and a criminal or suspected criminal, the rivalry between a master and a servant, and the rival of two people who are nearly on equal footing, both mortal and immortal.

Love can also sometimes play into elements of these rivalries. This can include a rivalry with someone who committed adultery and the spouse of the person they did so with, two people who are in love with the same person with one of them successfully having acquired the object of affection, the rivalry between two ex-spouses for the life of an ex-spouse, the rivalry between a two people who love the same person wherein one of the lovers has been previously abandoned, and the rivalry of two spouses who find themselves bigamously married to the same person or - in the case of many Hindu and Middle Eastern dramas - two spouses who are legally married to the same person who are rivals. Polti also highlights that there are plots that feature double rivalries, either rivalries congruent with each other or rivalries that belong three or more people seeking the same object.


Susannah accused of adultery, by Antoine Coypel

Polti not only separates this plot point out from his earlier structure of adultery related to murder or crime but also states that he initially thought about combining this story line with the above plot structure of the superior and inferior rivals. The reason he decided not to is because the fact of a marriage between characters brings out elements not just of love, and lust but also an element of treason, betrayal, and breaking of vows.

He also points out that in adultery, the person who the spouse is cheating with isn’t always inferior or superior to the spouse. This also gives motivations to characters for revenge, justice, and a sense of regaining their personal honor or confidence after the shame of being cuckolded. Examples of adultery Polti highlights include a lover betrayed for a younger lover, a lover betrayed for a spouse, a lover betrayed for a person who is seen to be more pure, a person betrayed for a slave who does not return the affection of the master, a spouse betrayed for debauchery, a spouse betrayed for a married person, a spouse betrayed with the intention of bigamy, a spouse betrayed for a younger lover who is not themselves in love, a spouse who envies a younger person in love with their spouse, and a spouse who is betrayed by a permanent lover or courtesan.

Polti also highlights differences in the two objects of affection as playing a role - usually an opposing role - in the plot structure. One might ignore the spouse while the other is loving and congenial toward them. One might be generous while the other withholds. One might be antagonistic while the other is comforting. Other times, the lover might be more sympathetic or willing to help than the spouse.

He also discusses plots wherein the betrayed spouse is more of the focus than the spouse doing the betraying. In this situation, the fact that the first spouse has been betrayed by their cheating spouse is made more dramatic by some aspect of the rival lover, such as that person’s inferiority, grotesque or less attractive appearance, the fact that they were rivals beforehand, the fact that the person is annoying, or sometimes because the lover is being used to get back at the spouse. Adultery plots can also involve the vengeance taken by a wronged spouse, a spouse sacrificing their jealousy for a greater good, or a spouse who is being persecuted by a former adulterous partner they have since rejected.

Crimes of Love

While Polti has previously touched on how love, lust, and romance can lead to criminal acts, this category might be better explained as “incest” or romances that are societally taboo. For this plot line, the writer needs elements including two lovers who are in a situation where their love is considered wrong, immoral, or illegal by society at large. Beyond incest, Polti also lists pedophilia, bestiality, as well as homosexuality within this parameters. It is important to remember that at the time Polti was writing homosexuality was still a criminal act in most countries.

Other relationships Polti outlined that aren’t strictly incestuous include romances between in-laws who are committing adultery, relationships between step-siblings or step-parents and step-children, and a parent and child who take the same lover. Polti points out that while these relationships are supposed to elicit feelings of disgust and moral reprehension in readers, they can also have the opposite effect of being tantalizing and giving readers a glimpse into seeing what it is like to break social and moral codes. Polti also says that most of these stories tend to end tragically, further trying to emphasis the negative moral nature of these relationships.

Discovery of Dishonor of a Loved One

Another one of Polti’s situations that involves both familial relationships and at least sexual desires, this plot point involves a relative discovering that one of their kin has been dishonored and then going after the person who caused that dishonor. Polti lays out several variants of this plot type and divides them into three overarching categories: dishonor on a direct family member, dishonor on a spouse or loved one, and dishonor of a relative by a relative.

George Bernard Shaw's play "Mrs. Warren's Profession" deals with a daughter coming to terms with the fact that her mother is a prostitute-turned-madam

The first set of variants are easy to explain, involving dishonor committed by an outsider to the family upon a parent, child, or sibling. The second variant deal with dishonor on a fiancee, spouse, or lover but not always as the result of outside intervention. Polti says these violations of a romantic partner can include the violation of a spouse before or after the marriage or finding out that one’s spouse has a dark past, such as sex work, having a bad character, or has committed some other act in their past that has brought them dishonor and must be avenged.

The third and final set of variants involve dishonor on the family that is often brought about by a family member, such as a relative who turns out to be a traitor, a relative breaking a law that another relative has made, a relative who is guilty of a crime, and finding out that a relative is in a dishonorable profession or is part of a group that is doing dishonorable things. These plot points usually have the protagonist as a character who is responsible for punishing whatever wrong is being perpetrated in addition to having a familial relationship with the person who is committing the act.

Polti lays out how this plot point brings the protagonist into conflict with themselves. On one hand, they have a duty to uphold the law and social convention, but on the other hand they have a person they have loved who has violated that duty and convention. They then have to choose if they are to punish their loved one and deal with the added pain that their duty must lead them to punish someone they care about. In the reverse, a person who has broken these rules and laws often realizes that doing so is bringing dishonor to their kin and may work to hide whatever acts they have done, creating a sense of mistrust among family members and weakening family ties. These plots often make people think about both what is just and how close familial or romantic relationships can skew our view of justice and what is fair.

Obstacles to Love

Love and the type of things a people will do to be with those they love is a common theme in literature throughout the world. The lengths that people are willing to go for those they love also can make for interesting and high-intensity plots. For this plot, the elements are two lovers and some sort of obstalce they must overcome in order to be together. As romantic love has only become a major reason for marriage in the modern era, there are plenty of obstacles for those who feel romantic love toward each other in history. Polti lays out several variants on this story that are commonly found in literature.

The first have to do with socioeconomic and political factors. It is a common theme in literature for the unequal social or political stature to be one of the reasons two lovers are kept apart as well as the fact that there is an inequality in finances keeping the lovers apart. Marriage has long been more of an economic alliance or political alliance in many cultures, especially among the elite and powerful. Therefore allowing a marriage that is based on love rather than any socioeconomic or political gain doesn’t make sense in many cultures.

The next set have to do with human barriers to love. These can be because enemies who are against the match are working to tear this apart, whether they be family members or outside forces. A relationship can also be prevented because one of the lovers is engaged or betrothed to another person who does have the support of others or because there is at least a perception that one of the lovers could become engaged or betrothed to another person in the future. Basically, the family or others support other matches and therefore will not give their consent to the match that is inspired by love.

The final obstacle Polti outlines is the lovers themselves. A theme commonly seen in Shakespeare, this is a situation where two people are perfect for each other but because of their own temperaments or staunchly held beliefs they will not admit to their feelings. In this case, the lovers have to overcome their own foibles and realize that what they first thought was mutual loathing is in fact the opposite emotion in order to be together. in these stories, readers can both sympathize with the lovers and understand the social boundaries that keep them apart, leading to the audience to debate which is more important: the love or keeping together the social order.

An Enemy Loved

Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as Romeo and Juliet

A bit of a spin-off of the previous dramatic structure, this story usually includes a lover, a beloved enemy, and someone who hates the love and feels betrayed by it. Typically, there is also some sort of familial relationship involved in this plot, usually the families of the two lovers being enemies. This not only raises the stakes for the two lovers but can also cause conflict elsewhere, such as family members not being able to understand why one of their own loves one of their supposed enemies or attempts to cover up the relationship to protect the lovers. Polti lays out two variants on this situation, the first that doesn’t really go into depth about why the two groups are enemies and the second that has to do with characters who have fallen in love with someone who has killed a relative.

In the first set of variants, Polti lays out situations such as general discord between the families of the lovers, discord between one of the lovers and the brothers of the beloved, two lovers who are the children of two people who hate each other, and a lover who is seen as a beloved of some sort of social group that the beloved belongs to. The reason for why these hatreds have been created aren’t always explained, though Polti clearly separates out these hatreds from hatreds that are caused by murder of some kind.

Vis and Rāmin

These variants of the aforementioned plot are sometimes more easy for readers to sympathize with, especially if it is made clear whatever thing has created the enemies is pointless or silly. Readers can begin to root for the lovers to overcome whatever strife threatens to separate them, even though these plots don’t always end up with happy endings. Likewise, the romantic connection between two lovers in this situation may led other members of the family or group to question whether their hatred has any merit and whether they, like the lovers themselves, should put aside their differences and resolve whatever issues are there. However, Polti's second variant on this theme shows cases where it might be understandable as to why other family members cannot forgive the lovers for forming a relationship.

Murder is the theme of the second set of plot variants he lays out. Usually, this involves a character who falls in love with the person who murdered their parent, sibling, previous partner, or other kinsman. Sometimes, one lover has sworn revenge on the other for these slaying but instead finds themselves falling for the person they have sworn vengeance against. The added tension in these plots is the fact that society expects us to find those who have murdered our close kin, friends, or romantic interests morally reprehensible. It is easy to understand why one might hate a person who has committed such a violent act against a love one. Therefore, it can be equally hard to understand why someone would not just willingly embrace but in fact romance a person who has perpetrated a violent act against someone of close relationship. As a result, these plots led us to question the old axiom if love can really conquer all.


Sometimes it seems as if there is no limit to human ambition, though there are plenty of cautionary tales about what happens when a person lets their ambition get the better of them. Polti says this dramatic structure includes three key pieces: an ambitious person, the object of their ambition, and an adversary who aims to keep them from their ambition. This adversary doesn’t necessarily have to be a character but can sometimes be a situation or concept that serves as an obstacle to the ambitious character.

Often, these plots walk the thin line between praising those who have ambitions and work to achieve their goals and those who are overly ambitious, thereby bringing about their own downfall or disastrous consequences to themselves or others. Polti outlines two sets of ambitious plot lines. The first involves an ambition where the obstacle is a person to the ambitious character, namely a kinsman or friend, a brother, or other forces outside the control of the character.

The second set of plot points deal with ambitions that may be dangerous or get the protagonist into trouble, such as an ambition to rebel, an ambition that leads the protagonist into a life of crime or a series of heinous deeds that may be legal but otherwise considered morally reprehensible, or an ambition that leads the character to commit murder.

The point of many of these plots are for the audience to analyze what they themselves might do for a personal goal as well as what goals are actually work having ambition for. The purpose is often to show that ambition is justifiable when the means to an end can be justified, but those ambitions that require a character to go outside what is legally or morally acceptable are not justified.

Conflict with a God

Found frequently in ancient mythology, this dramatic structure may seem somewhat related to the previously plot outline about uneven rivals. However, this structure as outlined by Polti has a lot more to do with faith and belief as well as those who have committed wrongs against religious figures and therefore must receive some sort of divine punishment or justice for their actions. While fighting with an all-powerful immortal deity may not seem like the best course of action for a mortal person, there are plenty of instances of this happening in legends throughout the world ranging from biblical characters to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Polti’s first two situations involve either a single person having a struggle with a god or a group of believers having a struggle with a god. Often times, this seemingly physical struggle is actually an allegory for a person wrestling with their faith or spirituality. Examples include Jacob’s dream where he wrestles with an angel and the Exodus of the Israelites where they are forced to wander in the desert for 40 years. Often times, what seems as divine punishment in these situation is actually the result of believers having to come to terms with their own faith and consciousness.

The other plot variants Polti outlines largely have to do with religious followers being punished for their actions, including a controversy between a believer and a god, a believer being punished for their pride, a believer being punished for their contempt, or a believer being punished for setting up a rivalry between themselves and a god. Often, these stories are not only used to show the power of the gods but also to show how human pride and self-importance can bring about divine retribution and the downfall of those who don’t seem to have any humility.

Mistaken Jealousy

Love is a strong emotion and therefore jealous love can be a dangerous feeling to have. There are many plots driven by the jealousy of a lover, but none so more tragic than the jealousy driven by jealousy that has no actual cause or is just perceived. For this structure, Polti says four elements are needed: a jealous lover, the person this lover loves, the supposed accomplice in whatever has created the jealousy, and a cause or author of this jealousy.

The cause or author can sometimes be a misconception about what has happened between two people, a misunderstanding, or a person who is actively encouraging the idea that some sort of betrayal happened. Polti sets up three sets of major variants of this original plot structure.

The first set of variants involve jealousy that is all in the mind of the jealous person. This can be a jealous that is purely in the imagination, jealousy that is the result of the person witnessing something they read to be more as it was, jealousy of a platonic relationship, or jealousy aroused by a rumor overheard by the person. This jealousy is often tragic because it is usually baseless but the person who is jealous doesn’t realize the error of their ways until it is too late. This can also explore the psychology of relationships and how things like open communication and trust are essential to making relationships healthy.

The second set of variants largely involve a person who creates the idea of jealousy in the head of one of the lovers, usually for their own personal interest or gain. This can be because they hate one or more of the pair of lovers, they have a self-interest in destabilizing the relationship, or they themselves are jealous of the relationship and therefore want it to end. These situations are not because the person who is causing the jealousy has romantic intentions toward any member of the jealousy plot. Those intentions are reserved for the third set of plot variants Polti outlines.

In the third set, the person who is causing the rumors of belief in jealousy has romantically or sexually motivated reasons for why they are trying to plant a seed of jealousy, usually because they themselves want a relationship with one of the lovers or because they are trying to punish a past lover for some infraction real or imagined. Common examples of this plot type Polti lays out include a rival lover creating jealousy between two spouses, a former suitor creating jealousy between two spouses, a scorned rival or lover who is creating jealousy, or a person who is secretly in love with one of the lovers sewing seeds of discord.

Erroneous Judgement

Everyone at some point in their lives has made a bad or mistaken judgement about something or someone. Sometimes, life allows us to correct these mistakes. Other times, a bad judgement can impact multiple lives in negative ways. This dramatic structure deals with characters who have made bad judgements that then led to consequences for innocent characters. The elements of this plot include a character with mistaken beliefs, a victim of those mistaken beliefs, a true cause or author of the beliefs, and often a character who is truly guilty. Sometimes, this cause or author of a mistake can actually be the character who is truly guilty trying to throw suspicion of themselves. Other times it can be a misrepresentation or a judgement made without all the facts.

Polti sets up four variants of this central plot theme, the first of which are false accusations or judgements that are aroused because of some internal mistake or belief of the character who is doing the judgement. This can be an error in good faith, a false suspicion, a false suspicio resulting because of a misunderstanding between two characters, or a false suspicion that is aroused because of indifference on the part of one or both of the characters. This internal judgement is sometimes made without all the facts or based entirely upon internal belief or emotion rather than a factual basis.

The second plot variant include false suspicion upon a party who may be close to the guilty party but is not in fact guilty themselves. In fact, sometimes these plots involve a character who has taken on the guilt of another character to protect them because of their relationship or because they don't believe the character to be guilty.

This can be a character who is a friend, family member, or lover of the true guilty party or even a character who takes the blame for another character who is also falsely accused. Sometimes, the character may have approved of the guilty act or thought of committing the act themselves but turns out to not be the actual perpetrator, therefore making them innocent of the real deed though not necessarily innocent of the thought behind it. It can also be a situation where a witness to a crime knows a loved one actually did the crime but refuses to speak up when a person they know is innocent is accused in order to protect their own guilty loved one.

The third set of variants deal with false guilt or accusations heaped upon an enemy. It can be easy to blame someone that one already has enmity for when there is blame to go around. These cases involve either a false accusation made against an enemy that it seems easy enough to believe or the fact that an enemy may have provoked the guilty deed even if they didn’t actually carry it out. It can also be the result of the real culprit casting dispersion upon an enemy, either because they hate that person or because they know it will be easy to accuse that enemy of their own crimes.

The fourth set of variants deal with the real culprit becoming directly involved in accusing an innocent to either get revenge on another person or just to draw suspicion away from themselves. This can be a culprit who throws suspicion on an enemy, rival or second victim they have plotted to frame from the beginning. Sometimes this can be to punish a person who was supposed to be an accomplice in the crime by throwing suspicion in their direction. It can also be a cause where a person throws suspicion on a former lover or someone who rejected their romantic advances.


Almost a sequel to the above structure, the remorse plot involves a culprit, a victim or sin, and an interrogator. In this plot, a culprit has done wrong in someway, either by committing a sin or doing harm to another figure. The interrogator then gets an admission of guilt from the culprit. In Polti’s structure, this admission of guilt is usually because the culprit is already feeling some remorse for the action they have committed or wants some sort of forgiveness or absolution from their guilt.

Polti lays out several variants of the structure, including a person who is remorseful for murder, for a crime of love, for adultery, or for a myriad of other crimes. Sometimes the inner turmoil of the plot is not the wrong that the character has committed but rather an inner turmoil for recognizing their deed was bad or guilt for a deed that may seem justified. It could be that the character was completely right in whatever wrong they committed but because it was still legally or morally wrong, they feel a need to admit their guilt.

This can also be a great way to get the audience to examine their own feelings of guilt and remorse over actions that may be justifiable but not necessarily correct. It can also show the psychological impact of guilt and remorse on a person and the burden of carrying around a crime on the inner self. There are also aspects like survivors guilt where a person may feel remorse for their involvement in a situation that was beyond their control and have an undeserved since of guilt for an event.

Recovery of a Loved One

Polti has laid out various situations that cause schisms within members of a family or social group, but this plot point focuses on the reunion between two people who have been separated. The plot involves a person who is seeking another and the person who needs to be found. While Polti only gives a short, barebones description of this plot point, it is a common theme seen in literature throughout the world.

There are numerous reasons why two characters might be separated and the journey to find a lost loved one can often make an interesting plot within itself. While sometimes this can be a voluntary separation between two people who care for each other, most times it is some sort of separation that is brought about due to situations beyond their control such as a kidnapping or other forced separation. These plots explore themes of loss and recovery, of separation and reunion and how they can impact our everyday lives.

Loss of Loved Ones

The final of the plot points laid out by Polti, this dramatic structure is somewhat the opposite of the one above. While everyone likes a good reunion, this story deals with loss, something that we all must experience some time during our lives. Dealing with loss and how people deal with loss is a major topic of both literature and other fields of study the world over. For this plot, Polti says the structure calls for a kinsman who has been slain, a kinsman who is a spectator to this death, and an executioner. The kinsman spectator is witness to the death of the kinsman by this executioner.

Polti divides these plots into two separate types of loss: a loss that is the result of another person and the loss that is the result of something more intangible such as a disease or old age. The plots that involve the direct involvement of a person can include a kinsperson who witnesses the slaying of a relative or loved one and is powerless to convention or a kinsman who helps bring about misfortune upon their own people, usually because of their job or secrets they are forced to hold. The plots that do not necessarily have a character who is directly involved in the slaying include a character who predicts the death of a loved one, has learned of the death of a kinsman or ally while they are away, or who has to deal with their own despair and pain because of the death of a loved one.

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