According to Ronald Tobias, all story lines from novels, plays and movies fall into one of 20 "Master Plots." They are:
7. The Riddle
15. Forbidden Love
18. Wretched Excess
What do you think?
The problem to me is that Tobias' list falls all over itself. Each "Master Plot" is so clearly connected to another. For instance, what would Tobias select as the "Master Plot" of Homer's Iliad? Tough choice, for the Iliad quite accurately fits every single "Master Plot" Tobias comes up with. No kidding; every single one!
No, Tobias' list is too much the stuff of life itself -- and life doesn't fit easily into separate compartments. My own biography, not nearly as exciting or as complex as the Iliad, would also encompass all 20 of Mr. Tobias' "Master Plots".
So then, how does one best describe a novel's plot? Well, I think one of my high school literature teachers may have had the best handle on the problem. He believed the plot of a story was simply the answer to the question, "And then what happened?"