The (7) Basic Plots

Christopher Booker writes that there are seven basic stories; seven plots. There is some disagreement about this which you can read about, and ultimately you can pick your position, but for the sake of this class, we’re going to deal with seven, because it’s a nice number and easy to remember.

Wikipedia has this information in their page on the topic (accessed October 2016).

The meta-plot

The meta-plot begins with the anticipation stage, in which the hero is called to the adventure to come, This is followed by a dream stage, in which the adventure begins, the hero has some success, and has an illusion of invincibility. However, this is then followed by a frustration stage, in which the hero has his first confrontation with the enemy, and the illusion of invincibility is lost. This worsens in the nightmare stage, which is the climax of the plot, where hope is apparently lost. Finally, in the resolution, the hero overcomes his burden against the odds.[2]

The Seven Basic Plots are the basics of plot-writing.

1. Overcoming the Monster

The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland.

Examples: PerseusTheseusBeowulfDraculaWar of the WorldsNicholas NicklebyThe Guns of NavaroneSeven Samurai and its Western-style remake The Magnificent Seven (although both are re-iterations of Seven Against Thebes), the James Bond franchise, Star Wars: A New HopeHalloweenThe Hunger GamesHarry Potter and Shrek.[2]

2. Rags to Riches

The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person.

Examples: JobCinderellaAladdinJane EyreA Little PrincessGreat ExpectationsDavid CopperfieldThe Prince and the PauperBrewster’s Millions.[2]

3. The Quest

The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.

Examples: IliadThe Pilgrim’s ProgressKing Solomon’s MinesWatership Down,[2] The Lord of the RingsHarry Potter and the Deathly HallowsThe Land Before TimeOne PieceIndiana JonesThe Voyage of the Dawn TreaderHarold & Kumar Go To White Castle

4. Voyage and Return

The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience.

Examples: OdysseyRamayanaAlice in WonderlandGoldilocks and the Three BearsOrpheusThe Time MachinePeter RabbitThe HobbitBrideshead RevisitedThe Rime of the Ancient MarinerGone with the WindThe Third Man,[2] Chronicles of NarniaApollo 13LabyrinthFinding NemoGulliver’s TravelsSpirited AwayUnchartedThe Wizard of Oz

5. Comedy

Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.[3] Booker makes sure to stress that comedy is more than humor. It refers to a pattern where the conflict becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event. Most romances fall into this category.

Examples: A Midsummer Night’s DreamMuch Ado About NothingTwelfth NightBridget Jones DiaryMusic and LyricsSliding DoorsFour Weddings and a FuneralMr. Bean

6. Tragedy

The protagonist is a hero with one major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally ‘good’ character.

Examples: MacbethThe Picture of Dorian GrayCarmenBonnie and ClydeJules et JimAnna KareninaMadame BovaryJohn DillingerRomeo and JulietJulius Caesar,[2] Death NoteBreaking BadDirty Mary, Crazy LarryHamlet

7. Rebirth

During the course of the story, an important event forces the main character to change their ways, often making them a better person.

Examples: The Frog PrinceBeauty and the BeastThe Snow QueenA Christmas CarolThe Secret GardenPeer Gynt,[2] Life Is a DreamDespicable MeMachine Gun PreacherMegamindHow the Grinch Stole Christmas

Source: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. The Seven Basic Plots. Wikipedia. Internet. Accessed 17 October 2016.


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