In Save the Cat, the very excellent screenwriting book by the late Blake Snyder, Mr. Snyder claims there are ten basic movie plots. It’s a rad concept and it just may help you figure out the plot (aka story) for your college essay.

Note: big props to Nived Ravikumar, the Statement Guru, for dreaming this post up with me. For his graduate school essay version, click here. (Also, Nived is awesome.)

Here are all 10 plots, with examples from both movies and college essays:

1. DUDE WITH A PROBLEM.

What it is: Our hero (male or female) is in a serious situation and needs to find a solution RIGHT. NOW.

Movie examples: From Brave to Braveheart, Finding Nemo to Finding Forrester, almost every film you’ve ever seen involves a hero trying solving a problem. In fact, try to name a major movie in which the main character does NOT have a problem to solve. (Spoiler: you can’t.)

Tip for using this plot for your personal statement: make sure The Problem—whatever it is—is clearly established by the end of the first paragraph. And make sure the problem is super clear. While your ending can have an element of ambiguity (i.e. – you choose not to clearly spell out whether the problem was ultimately solved or not), your set-up has to be crystal clear. Otherwise you may lose your audience.

For an example essay of a dude with a problem, check out the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Essay. For an example of a non-dude with a problem, check out the “On Debate” or “Porcelain God” essays.