On Story: Plots of Thought

A series considering the various journeys protagonists can undertake within narratives. This essay looks at Plots of Thought.

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Follows: Plots of Character

In my last essay we looked at the different types of Plots of Character, as defined by Norman Friedman. These are plots that follow an individual’s character and whether they survived the tests they face in the plot.

This essay will be looking at Plots of Thought. These are quite simple—they are plots in which the main focus is on what the protagonist thinks and feels. This often lends to a more cerebral experience, exploring the development of the main character’s inner world.

The Education Plot

This is a type of plot most people can identify with. The protagonist begins their journey as somewhat of a rebel whilst retaining some qualities that enable the reader to relate to them. During the story they must learn something new that challenges their beliefs and worldview. They are forced to re-evaluate what they know and grow as individuals.

An example of this would be Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and is commonly found in coming-of-age tales. It can evoke readers to think about earlier times when they thought they saw the world through rose-tinted glasses but had to adapt to the realities of growing up.

The Revelation Plot

Quite like the Education Plot, the Revelation Plot follows a protagonist’s journey to discovering a great truth that the reader may or may not be aware of, and their response to this truth. It could be the betrayal of a friend or discovering they have an illness.

An example of the Revelation Plot would be Roald Dahl’s Beware the Dog. The main through-line of a Revelation Plot, and its key difference to that of the Education Plot, is the main character’s response to the information that is being presented to us, the reader. We begin in waiting, egging the protagonist on, to discover the truth and then fear their response.

The Affective Plot

This plot focuses on a character’s opinions that are changed by circumstance or new information, while they, themselves, remain relatively unchanged.

A good example of this can be found in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in which Elizabeth Bennet finds herself unsure of how to feel regarding her suitor, Mr Darcy. The draw of this type of plot is empathising with the protagonist’s inability to decipher their head from their heart, and the various consequences of this. This plot isn’t just for romance novels, as it can be used in other genres to great effect, such as thrillers.

The Disillusionment Plot

The final plot in Friedman’s story plots is the Disillusionment Plot, in which a protagonist starts with strong ideals. It is through these ideals that we, the reader, find an admirable quality. These principles are then destroyed by circumstance or events, leading to the protagonist’s disillusionment. The reader may sympathise with the character’s loss. Their identity may have been built up from this and as a result, they fall apart and give up. While the protagonist wallows in self-pity and morally collapses, the reader may learn the importance of not giving up their own values.

Freidman’s example of such a plot is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which many see as a cautionary tale.


The main thread connecting these types of plot is the mental impact upon the protagonist. Plots of thought are rooted in logic, not emotion like character plots, or circumstances like plots of fortune.

It is worth remembering that it is not uncommon to see different story threads with different types of plots woven into them. With books with multiple point-of-view characters, it would make sense to see different types of narrative arcs for them, and even minor characters can undergo their own plots.

Pinning down and articulating what kind of story I want to tell has been a huge benefit in my storytelling. Discovering key themes and what narrative arc I want for my main character has helped me establish a clear vision for the novel ahead and how I intend to make changes on subsequent drafts. By applying the various plots to characters within a story, a definitive structure becomes clear.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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