Here are 7 major plot configurations, as presented by Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.
Overcoming the Monster – There is a great evil threatening the world. The Hero learns of this evil, and sets out to overcome it. At the climax, right when it looks like the Evil will overcome the hero, the hero saves the day.
Rags to Riches – The hero is surrounded by oppressive forces – the forces suppress him and mock him. Eventually the hero makes a stand and overcomes these forces. He gains riches, gets the girl, and a kingdom to boot.
The Quest – The hero learns about something important, whether it’s an artifact, a person, riches, a place, whatever. He desperately needs or wants to find this thing. He “sets out” to find it, usually with a party of companions.
Voyage and Return – The hero begins at home, where life is nice and normal. Then he travels to a land where everything is wild and unruly. Eventually, after many trials, he conquers over the madness and returns to his home. A change and a maturity has taken place in the hero.
Comedy – The Hero and the Heroine are destined to be together. But opposing forces are conspiring to keep them apart. In the end, the oppressive forces can’t hold, they are overcome, and all of the characters are shown for who they truly are. This allows the new, appropriate relationships to form.
Tragedy – The Tragic Hero is committed to his course. In the beginning things go well for him, but soon he meets frustration. Eventually things start to spiral out of the tragic hero’s control. We know the tipping point is near. When the hero finally meets his end and destruction, the world around him is freed, and rejoices.
Rebirth – Similar to tragedy, except that the tragic hero realizes his errors before it’s too late. Usually he is aided by a friend, or a lover, or some helper who allows the hero to see the error of his ways. The story ends with change and redemption for the hero and those around him.
Booker believes that humans are story creatures, and that stories have been critical to our evolution.
He goes on to say that all of these plots, and all of their myriad variations, are relatives of the “same great basic drama,” which all have to do with mankind’s evolution as a species, and the development and integration of the mature self.