Story Types


Propp identifies four variants of the primal tale, each variant identified by its inclusion or exclusion of struggle-victory and difficult task-solution functions. Initial situations and the setup functions are not included in the patterns because there are so many possible variations. As a poet, you should view each one of the words or phrases separated by plus signs (call them functions) as a line (or perhaps a couplet or three line stanza) in the poem; as a tale writer, you should view each function as a sentence (or at most, three sentences); as a short story writer, you should view each function as a paragraph (or a page); as a dramatist or script writer, you should view each function as a three to five page scene; as a novelist, you should view each function as a chapter.

1. Simple Struggle-Victory: 

villainy + mediation + counteraction +departure + donor test + hero reaction + magic agent + transference + struggle + branding + victory + liquidation + return + pursuit + rescue + unrecognized arrival + unfounded claims + recognition + exposure + transfiguration + punishment + wedding

This first pattern is the usual struggle-victory, and can be used for both the victimized and seeker hero. If the princess gets victimized, then you need mediation and counteraction; if your hero gets victimized, then you don't need those functions. If you want the story to take place in one location, then you don't need departure. But you do need a donor test, hero reaction, and magic agent. If your hero doesn't depart, then he or she doesn't need transference. But you do need the struggle. If your hero has been victimized, then branding is not absolutely necessary, unless there's a princess involved. You need the victory and liquidation. You could end the story with liquidation, but if your villain's still alive, then you need return, pursuit, and rescue, and if you've got a false hero lurking in your initial situation, then you need the disguise, unfounded claims, and as many of the other functions as you think the reader can stomach.

2. Simple Difficult Task-Solution

villainy + mediation + counteraction +departure + donor test + hero reaction + provision of magic agent + transference + unrecognized arrival + unfounded claims + difficult task + branding + solution + liquidation + return + pursuit + rescue +  recognition + exposure + transfiguration + punishment + wedding

This second pattern is very much like the first pattern except that the hero enters the villain's realm in disguise and competes in a difficult task and solution instead of struggle-victory. Again, depending on whether your hero is victimized or a seeker, certain functions can be discarded.

3. Both Struggle-Victory and Task-Solution

villainy + mediation + counteraction +departure + donor test + hero reaction + provision of magic agent + transference + struggle + branding + victory + liquidation + return + pursuit + rescue + unrecognized arrival + unfounded claims + difficult task + solution +  recognition + exposure + transfiguration + punishment + wedding

This third pattern uses the whole story machine system of functions and all seven archetypes. You need both a villain and a false hero. Before trying this epic structure, you should experiment with the other three patterns.

4. Neither Struggle-Victory nor Task-Solution

lack (or villainy) + mediation + counteraction +departure + donor test + hero reaction + provision of magic agent + transference+ liquidation + return + pursuit + rescue + recognition + exposure + transfiguration + punishment + wedding

This fourth pattern is probably the simplest story pattern of them all. The hero begins with a lack or villainy, takes off, finds a donor who gives him or her a magical agent, gets transferred, gets the desired object or person, comes home, gets transfigured. If you want to make the pattern as simple as possible, just use lack, departure, donor test, hero reaction, magic agent, transference, liquidation, return, transfiguration.