Alternative Plots (Part 1)

Up to this point in my Organic Architecture Series, I’ve been discussing the goal-oriented plot (arch plot) and the limitations of this plot-type. Arch plot functions in such a way that the connective tissue is a desire that moves the plot through its progression.

But are there plots where the cause-and-effect tissue isn’t defined by goals? Or plots that don’t have heroes? Or plots where the main character isn’t active?


In the next two posts, I’m going to introduce you to the following alternative plots:

  • Mini-plot,
  • Daisy chain plot,
  • Cautionary tale plot
  • Ensemble plot
  • Along for the ride plot
  • Symbolic juxtaposition plot
  • Repeated event plot
  • Repeated action plot

This list is by no means complete and I’m constantly on the lookout for more!

I’ve defined an alternative plot  as one that doesn’t have a hero (as termed by the hero’s journey), one that lacks a specific goal, or one that does not use traditional cause-and-effect as its connective tissue. Let’s look at how a few of these plots are different than the hero’s journey arch plot.

Tender MerciesMINI PLOT (Also known as: Emotional Plot)

Mini plot is a minimalist approach to arch plot in which the writer reduces the elements of classical design. Often these stories are internal and appear to be plot-less, and/or have passive protagonists. However, the cause-and-effect links are often derived from points of emotional growth rather than high-stakes action. Some might argue that this is a “watered down” version of arch plot, because you can still see the same patterns of arch plot arising in mini-plot, but on a smaller more emotional level.

  • Film Examples: Tender Mercies, Five Easy Pieces, Wild Strawberries.

red_violin_ver2DAISY CHAIN PLOT

In the daisy chain plot there is no central protagonist with a goal. Instead multiple characters or situations are introduced through the cause-and-effect connective tissue of a physical object that is passed from one character to the next.

  • Film Examples: The Red Violin, Twenty Bucks.
  • Book Examples: Lethal Passage (Larson).
  • Modified Daisy Chain Plots with a Protagonist: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Angleberger), Thirteen Reasons Why (Asher).


In the cautionary tale plot there isn’t a hero and it is often the antithesis of comforting growth. In both Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable and Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun, the main character’s commit horrible acts of violence.  In this plot, the reader becomes the protagonist who must evaluate the main character, and it is often the reader who ends up changing as a result.

  • Book Examples: Inexcusable (Lynch), Jumped (Williams-Garcia), Give a Boy a Gun (Strasser).

keeshaslENSEMBLE PLOT (Also known as: Polyphonic Plot)

This plot has multiple protagonists in a single location which is “characterized by the interaction of several voices, consciousnesses, or world views, none of which unifies or is superior to the others” (Berg). There can be goals in this plot type, but more often it is a character-driven story in the form of a portrait of a city, group of friends, or community.

  • Film Examples: The Big Chill, Nashville, Beautiful Girls.
  • Book Examples: Keesha’s House (Frost), Give a Boy a Gun (Strasser), Bronx Masquerade (Grimes), Doing It (Burgess).

Are you starting to see some of the new and exciting options available? Stay tuned. In part 2, I’ll cover: along for the ride plot, symbolic juxtaposition plot, repeated event plot, and repeated action plot.

One thought on “Alternative Plots (Part 1)

  1. I saw Tender Mercies, Nashville, and Beautiful Girls and read Inexcusable. Great all. I found Tender Mercies emotionally satisfying. Do you find that some coming-of-age books have this plot since emotional growth is the result?

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