Author Topic: Only seven basic stories?  (Read 3448 times)

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Offline MikeHz

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Only seven basic stories?
« on: May 10, 2012, 09:58:51 PM »
The British literary critic Christopher Booker contends that there have only ever been seven basic plots, as follows:

1. 'Tragedy'. Hero with a fatal flaw meets tragic end. Macbeth or
Madame Bovary.

2. 'Comedy'. Not necessary laugh-out-loud, but always with a happy ending, typically of romantic fulfilment, as in Jane Austen.
 
3. 'Overcoming the Monster'. As in Frankenstein or 'Jaws'. Its psychological appeal is obvious and eternal.

4. 'Voyage and Return'. Booker argues that stories as diverse as Alice in Wonderland and H G Wells' The Time Machine and Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner follow the same archetypal structure of personal development through leaving, then returning home.

5. 'Quest'. Whether the quest is for a holy grail, a whale, or a kidnapped child it is the plot that links a lot of the most popular fiction. The quest plot links Lords of the Rings with Moby Dick and a thousand others in between.

6. 'Rags to Riches'. The riches in question can be literal or metaphoric. See Cinderella, David Copperfield, Pygmalion.

7. 'Rebirth'. The 'rebirth' plot - where a central character suddenly finds a new reason for living - can be seen in A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, Crime and Punishment and Peer Gynt.

Can you think of any story that does not fall into one of these categories?
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Offline Caffiene

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2012, 10:36:17 PM »
Based on those descriptions Im not sure if I can think of a plot that doesnt fit any of those... but I can certainly think of plots that contain more than one of those. Someone who goes on a quest but then meets a tragic end; Someone overcoming a monster who turns out to be an aspect of themself and they find new purpose after excising the monster; etc.

The major problem, though, is it seems less of a case of having 7 basic plots and more a case of just having overly broad dichotomies. eg: Between Comedy and Tragedy as youve described them here, they are basically "The story either has a happy end, or a sad end".

I think its extremely easy to come up with a "fatal flaw" in any well developed character, which means that you can shoehorn pretty much any lead character into the tragedy definition if they dont fit one of the other categories. Is the ending happy? Its a comedy. Otherwise, say that the lack of a happy ending means they failed at something and shoehorn them into tragedy.

You can use confirmation bias to fit things to the seven categories, without it necessarily telling you anything useful or insightful about those stories.
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Offline Moloch

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2012, 10:47:10 PM »
You can use confirmation bias to fit things to the seven categories, without it necessarily telling you anything useful or insightful about those stories.

Exactly, it's like those personality tests that squish people into one of 'X' number of categories. The level of variation and mixture within each theme and the broadness of some themes make the list kind of redundant.

Rebirth strikes me as extremely broad, SO many protagonists discover a "new reason for living".

Offline Moloch

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2012, 10:48:52 PM »
It's a similar exercise to the "7 Basic Conflicts"

Character v. Character
A conflict arising between two or more characters of the same kind. An example would include a fist fight between two boys.

Character v. Nature
A character pitted against one or more forces of nature. This theme is found in many disaster films. It is also commonly found in stories about survival in remote locales such as the novel Hatchet or Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire".

Character v. Machine
A conflict between a character and an artificial entity such as a computer, robot, or android. The emphasis is on contrasting the character as a natural organism with a synthetic creature. Certainly the Terminator movies fit in this category.

Character v. Self
An internal conflict involving a character wrestling with conflicting emotions, thoughts, or desires.

Character v. Supernatural
A character at odds with elements outside of the natural realm. These include encounters with ghosts, extraterrestrials, and other speculative or theoretical phenomena. Both The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project have elements of conflict in this form as do most Horror stories and many Thrillers.

Character v. Society
A conflict between bad and good. (Series of Unfortunate Events) An example would be a citizen of a town being outlawed for a crime.

Character v. Destiny
A character attempting to break free from a future path chosen without his or her consent. It can also be referred to as a conflict between fate and freewill. A common example is Shakespeare's Macbeth.


Offline Neon Genesis

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2012, 11:18:06 PM »
Where does dark comedy fall into these seven categories? 

Offline Moloch

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2012, 11:22:04 PM »
Where does dark comedy fall into these seven categories?

'Comedy', surely? I don't think the requirement that the story have a happy ending is really a necessity for comedy, it seems rather strange in fact. Many comedy stories also have elements of the other categories. Think of a specific dark comedy and have a think.

Offline amysrevenge

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #6 on: May 11, 2012, 11:48:26 AM »
The whole thing strikes me as an effort to desperately avoid enjoying anything, by over-analysis.
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Offline DeepGlue

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2012, 12:10:42 PM »
Reminds me of horoscopes.

Offline kakaydin

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #8 on: May 31, 2012, 02:11:13 PM »
The British literary critic Christopher Booker contends that there have only ever been seven basic plots

I heard someone say once that there are really only 2 basic story themes:
1. Love
2. Retribution
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Offline JuniorSpaceman

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2012, 06:11:49 PM »
I agree that the list is too broad to be of any use as an analytical or descriptive tool. It's like the old 'there are two types of people in this world - those who like {x} and those who don't like {x}', covering everybody by definition.

Offline Neon Genesis

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2012, 08:05:25 PM »


I heard someone say once that there are really only 2 basic story themes:
1. Love
2. Retribution
Joseph Campbell narrowed it down to one.

Offline David E.

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #11 on: May 31, 2012, 09:59:04 PM »
Clive Barker has an interesting take on this from his novel, Imajica:

"It was the pivotal teaching of Pluthero Quexos, the most celebrated dramatist of the Second Dominion, that in any fiction, no matter how ambitious its scope or profound its theme, there was only ever room for three players. Between warring kings, a peacemaker; between adoring spouses, a seducer or a child. Between twins, the spirit of the womb. Between lovers, Death. Greater numbers might drift through the drama, of course—thousands in fact—but they could only ever be phantoms, agents, or, on rare occasions, reflections of the three real and self-willed beings who stood at the center. And even this essential trio would not remain intact; or so he taught. It would steadily diminish as the story unfolded, three becoming two, two becoming one, until the stage was left deserted. Needless to say, this dogma did not go unchallenged. The writers of fables and comedies were particularly vociferous in their scorn, reminding the worthy Quexos that they invariably ended their own tales with a marriage and a feast. He was unrepentant. He dubbed them cheats and told them they were swindling their audiences out of what he called the last great procession, when, after the wedding songs had been sung and the dances danced, the characters took their melancholy way off into darkness, following each other into oblivion. It was a hard philosophy, but he claimed it was both immutable and universal, as true in the Fifth Dominion, called Earth, as it was in the Second. And more significantly, as certain in life as it was in art."
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Offline arthwollipot

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Re: Only seven basic stories?
« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2012, 01:16:39 AM »
This page lists 34 basic plots for RPGs.
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