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Norman Friedman's Forms of the Plot

Published in Journal of General Education, 8 (1955), 241-53.

Cf. also Gerald Prince, Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 72-73.

Norman Friedman's Forms of the Plot is the most comprehensive plot typology. He started from a previous classification, put forward by R. S.Crane: plots of action, of character and of thought. Friedman took into consideration also the issues of success, responsibility, attractiveness and the impact on the receiver:

1. Plots of fortune
(which involve a change in the protagonist's situation)

1.1 The action plot, developing around a problem and its resolution (e.g. Stevenson's Treasure Island).

1.2 The pathetic plot, in which an attractive, weak protagonist fails; there is an unhappy ending, arousing pity (e.g. Hardy's Tess of the Urbervilles).

1.3 The tragic plot, where an attractive protagonist falls, which brings about catharsis (e.g. Sophocles's Oedipus King, Shakespeare's King Lear).

1.4 The punitive plot, in which a repulsive, yet partially admirable hero falls (e.g. Shakespeare's Richard III).

1.5 The sentimental plot, in which an attractive, but frail or passive hero succeeds eventually (e.g. O'Neill's Anna Christie).

1.6 The admiration plot, where an attractive, responsible hero succeeds, which wins the reader's respect and admiration (e.g. Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).

2. Plots of character (involving a change in the protagonist’s moral character)

2.1 The maturing plot, in which an attractive, naive protagonist achieves maturity (e.g. Dickens's Great Expectations, James's The Portrait of a Lady, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).

2.2 The reform plot, in which an attractive protagonist is responsible for his/her disaster, but later improves (e.g. Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter).

2.3 The testing plot, in which an attractive protagonist fails several times and then gives up his/her ideals (e.g. Chekhov's Uncle Vanya).

2.4 The degeneration plot, in which an attractive protagonist changes for the worse, after a major crisis (e.g. Gide's The Immoralist).

3. Plots of thought (which bring about a change in the protagonist's thoughtsand feelings)

3.1 The education plot, in which an attractive protagonist’s thought gets better, but the possible change in his/her behavior is not shown (e.g. Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

3.2 The revelation plot, in which the protagonist comes to understand his/her condition (e.g. Roald Dahl's "Beware of the Dog").

3.3 The affective plot, in which the protagonist's attitude and feelings change, but his/her thought does not (e.g. Austen's Pride and Prejudice).

3.4 The disillusionment plot, in which the protagonist is deprived of his/her ideals, possibly loses the receiver's sympathy and ends up in dejection or annihilation (e.g. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby).



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