If you have spent any time in a college literature course, there is a decent chance that you have analyzed plot structure. Before we get much further I want to get a working definition of plot down for this post.
Plot is the events of a story that progress the characters toward an end goal.
This definition is open to debate, but for this post, it should do fine. Every story will have a plot, it doesn’t matter if it is a commercial piece of literature or an experimental narritive written by grad. student. Some plots are well known, some are absurd, and others leave the reader begging for more. If you are in the planning stages of a novel, it might do you some good to become familar with some of the basic plot archetypes.
Overcoming the Monster– A story about a character who overcomes an adversary.
Rags to Riches– Destitute character becomes wealthy and explores the lifestyle inherent with wealth.
The Quest– Characters journey across the setting for something.
Voyage and Return– Characters go far away, then return home and have to live with newfound knowledge, skills, etc in world that didn’t change with them.
Comedy– This is not the Greek comedy, but simply a story that is humorous.
Tragedy– A story with a dire outcome, often teaches a lesson.
Rebirth– A story about redemption, often uses a strong character arc.
You can mix and match many of these different elements, but understanding what kind of story you are writing can create a better experience for your readers. If you are writting a comedy up until the climax and it suddenly becomes a tragedy, your readers will likely have a negative reaction to the work. They were reading your book because they wanted to be happy, not weep tears of sadness.