Let’s Discuss! The Seven Basic Plots

Hi everyone! Today’s going to be an interesting post – for me and hopefully for you too. I wouldn’t normally write about ‘heavy’ or ‘serious’ theories and ideas such as this one, but it’s something my new college tutor was discussing with the class yesterday, and I found it so interesting I thought I’d use some of my notes to make a post!

Has anyone heard of the Seven Basic Plots theory? If not, don’t worry! That’s awesome, it means I can tell you all about it now 🙂

The idea is that every single story in the world (weather it be myths and legends, books, TV, movies and every other story in every other form) fits into 7 very basic plots.

There has actually been a whole book written on this theory! You can find out more here.

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Goodreads | Amazon

  1. Overcoming the monster – the aim of the plot is for the protagonist or main character to defeat the antagonist or villain
    Modern day example: Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games (Note: all dystopian)
  2. Rags to riches – A poor (or less privileged) main character finds riches (whether this be in the form of wealth, romance, power or something similar), before losing this. After growing and learning as a person, they may gain back these riches.
    Modern day example: Jane Eyre.
  3. The quest – a common goal that becomes the end point for the character. The story will generally follow their journey and struggles along the way.
    Modern day example: Deadpool, Star Wars
  4. Voyage and return – a journey is made by the protagonist to a strange (or fanatical) world, and when they return to the real world they have generally overcome fears and learned more about their real life.
    Modern day example: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Sword Art Online, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
  5. Comedy – a generally humorous story with a simple event and happy ending. If this is a TV series, the plot could be different each episode.
    Modern day example: Arrested Development, Mr Bean, The Simpsons
  6. Tragedy – the main character has one major character flaw that becomes a big part of the story. This doesn’t have to be physical – it can also include subjects like greed for wealth, riches or love. Many superheros fall under this category and can include the love for another as their drawback.
    Modern day example: Deadpool (with his love for ‘Copycat’), Breaking Bad
  7. Rebirth – the protagonist makes changes after a major plot event causes them to learn more about themselves and force them to change their ways.
    Modern day example: Beauty and the Beast

Although you can see most of the modern references I’ve made are film, TV or anime, I’ve made sure to list books where I can. Even so, it’s not hard to take a second to fit a few recent YA books under each catagory. For example, The Court of Thorns and Roses falls under Quest because of Feyre and her quest for love.

So what does this mean? None of the books we read are original? Well, yes and no. In the end, everything has been done in one way or another – and it is basically impossible for you to come up with a story that doesn’t fit any of these basic plots. But that doesn’t mean books can’t be different. For example, I’m sure many people would say Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children falls under both the quest (finding a way to keep everyone safe) and the Voyage and Return plot (the loop world makes Jacob a better person in the real world), but it’s definitely a quirky book.

Also, this still doesn’t mean every book is the same. It’s simpler to say each story is a mashup or rework of one (or multiple) before it. You can always say books are similar, or may be appropriate for fans of other books (etc). But it’s these millions of specific tweaks and differences in each story we read, that makes them unique. And that difference, that uniqueness, is what makes us keep reading new novels, and feeling like we’ve had a new experience each time.

Where do you stand on this? Do you think Christopher Booker is right or wrong with this analogy? Why?

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽


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6 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss! The Seven Basic Plots

  1. I’ve read Booker’s book before and found it quite interesting. I do think that in some ways there is no originality with basic plots. It’s what the writer brings to their story, their own outlook and twists that makes them unique and enjoyable reads.

    I mean, there are a whole lot of stories about dysfunctional families out there, but I’ve got to say, Shakespeare does a great job with King Lear, right? Or in terms of very similar plots…did you know that there was actually a book about a boy trapped in a lifeboat with a black panther before Yann Martel wrote The Life of Pi? (A lot of people we up in arms about that, but I think that sometimes plots just overlap like that).

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a very interesting theory! Exactly, I think the best thing is when an author uses a basic plot but twists or combines them to make it unique or their own. I did hear something about The Life of Pi! I’ve also heard a lot about The Mortal Instruments, apparently there was books before those with Shadowhunters in them!

      Like

  2. This is such an interesting post/theory! Thanks for sharing it. I’m not a writer so I never really think about the technical side to things so this was great to read. I can definitely see where he’s coming from with the points. I feel like it works the same way tropes do – they’re popular for a reason, but it’s how the author twists them that really makes or break it. That said I’m always weak for plots that involve quests and overcoming the monster 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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