I have often told my children that there are only a handful of original plots and that all books are somehow based upon those plots and their variations. Success; Failure; Love and Loss; Revenge; Mistaken Identity; The search for a higher power, be it God or the Devil (according to Stephen King).
Others list them as this 5: man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. god –
Examples would include: Braveheart, Hamlet , I, Robot (The Robot), The Day After Tomorrow, The Exorcist.
Ronald Tobias wrote the book 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them and subscribes to this list of 20 basics: Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, Rivalry, Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension and Descension.
But whatever notion you hold, I do believe there are only so many original ideas and the best authors mold and shape these basic plots into new and exciting twists that entertain us and become classic.
In that vain, my son showed me this video from Today’s Big Thing which really illustrates the point. This video is about music, but shows that there are only so many chord combinations that a muscian can create and still be original. Th video is very entertaining and makes you stop and think about what creativity really means.