Alternative Plots (Part 2)

Thanks for coming back to learn more about alternative plots!

Last week in Part 1, I covered mini-plot, daisy chain plot, cautionary tale plot, and ensemble plot. Today we’re going to continue to push the boundaries of arch plot and the hero’s journey by taking a look at along-for-the-ride plot, symbolic juxtaposition plot, repeated event plot, and repeated action plot. Again, I’ve termed an alternative plot as one that doesn’t have a hero (as defined 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.


In the Along for the Ride plot there isn’t an active protagonist.  Instead a secondary character drives the action and the protagonist is along for the ride. Often there’s still a change in the protagonist, showing that we don’t always have to be active goal-seekers for an event or person to incite personal growth.

  • Book Examples: Looking for Alaska (Green), What I Saw and How I Lied (Blundell), Rebecca (Maurier).

Life in a DaySYMBOLIC JUXTAPOSITION PLOT (Also known as: Thematic Plot, Intellectual Plot, Anti-Plot, Existential Plot)

In the symbolic juxtaposition plot the reader should be prepared for a more intellectual experience. Instead of traditional cause-and-effect, this plot uses themes, ideas, images, and concepts to connect scenes and sequences with meaning. It’s a more argumentative plot development where X doesn’t cause Y, but X is in a symbolic relationship to Y.

  • Film Examples: Life in a Day, The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Chunking Express, Waking Life.
  • Book Examples: Einstein’s Dreams (Lightman), Criss Cross (Perkins).


In classical narrative, the same event is never shown twice. In this plot type, however, one event repeats several times throughout the story, but each re-telling usually offers a new perspective. Multiple characters are used to show that there is more than one version of the truth.

  • Film Examples: Vantage Point, Hero, He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not.


In this plot, a single character repeats an action over and over with the underlying design mantra of “we are going to keep doing this until we get it right.” This plot could be categorized as a goal-oriented plot, as the protagonist may have a goal, and the obstacles are the repetition of a single action with different outcomes. However, I’ve added it here, because it is a deviation from linear goal-oriented plot.

  • Film Examples: Run Lola Run, Groundhog Day, The Butterfly Effect, 50 First Dates.
  • Book Examples: Before I Fall (Oliver).

Are these the only plot types that exist? Absolutely not! This is simply the list I’ve created thus far in my search for alternative plots. If you know of more alternative plots, I’d love to hear about them!

For further reading on alternative plots, please take a look at:

  • Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
  • Pages 44 -66 in:  McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
  • Pages 165 – 194 in:  Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

Coming up next: Alternative structures!

2 thoughts on “Alternative Plots (Part 2)

  1. I saw (and loved) Run Lola Run and also read Before I Fall and What I Saw and How I Lied, so I see what you mean. I found all very compelling and I kept turning pages (or watching in the case of Lola) to see what would happen next. I was drawn by the characters and the changes the authors foreshadowed.

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