Keeping track of lists of plots and trying to figure out if we can make unique ones or not is, in my humble opinion, entirely useless. Story isn't plot, and it's unhelpful to think of story in that way. And I refuse to think in terms of "there are no original plots" - because when I think that way, I end up seeing every story as a regurgitation of another story, just put in a different light. There certainly are those stories. Not every story is original. Not every story can be. Mine certainly aren't - not yet.
There is a depth to the world around us, indeed to humanity itself, that is nearly endless. And every story (no matter how mundane or how fantastic) is, I think, part of our way of fleshing out the world and ourselves.
And that means that there are and can be unique stories, because we certainly don't understand everything about the world, nor do we understand everything about ourselves. And I think that constitutes a unique "plot" - a revealing of ourselves and the reality in which we live.
I can look at the world around me and find patterns everywhere - and that's fine. But if I miss the unique, the original, and all I ever see are the patterns, then I'm not really seeing the world, and I'm not really understanding the patterns, and I'm missing a fullness to a world that is otherwise a very dull and empty place.
I don't think plot is found in the patterns - the lists of 20 or 7 or whatever lists basic plots. Whenever we enter a new story and see these patterns, what we're really doing is the equivalent of travelling from California to England. OKAY - we just took a big step. But when you look around, it's not totally foreign to us - we still know that we're on planet earth.
I know I talk this way sometimes, too, but I don't even like the language of "putting a new twist on an old plot" - it's too synthetic sounding. It's like saying, "Well, if I can't leave California, then I'll just plant some different trees in my backyard to make it a bit more exotic. It's California with a twist."
Rather, I prefer to think of moving from the patterns to the original - because life is original. And so our stories (our plots!) must be, too, if they're to have anything to say about life and the world we inhabit. Tons of forests may look the same on first inspection, but not one of them actually is. When we read a story about character traveling from A to Z to stop bad guy X, I don't think that's the plot. Because I don't think we can just boil down stories to the largest possible pattern. That's the most unhelpful way to think about a story that I could think of. The plot is in the details - the plot is in the originality, the uniqueness of the story. It's in the character interactions, the world, the conflict, the emotions, the dialogue, etc. It's in the truth of the story.
All that said, here are (I think) some modern original plots (stories, if you will):
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- 1984 by George Orwell
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
All of these books have their own literary merit, their own pitfalls, their own larger patterns, etc. And there are a lot of people who haven't been able to do much more than copy them, unfortunately, coming up with nothing unique of their own. But I think these are original, and they are so precisely because of the the details.
Can you create an original plot, an original story?
Yeah. You'll always have larger patterns that are familiar to us as a people, to our own common history (which is full of the same patterns) - but the plot is in the details. It's in the very originality, the uniqueness. In fact, it's the originality which informs and enlightens and reveals something new and never before seen about the patterns. And this is, I think, what every author ought to really strive for. And what every author, as an original human being within the larger pattern of humanity, has inside of him/herself.