The Seven Basic Plots
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The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories is a 2004 book by Christopher Booker containing a Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning. Booker had worked on the book for 34 years.
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.
The key thesis of the book: "However many characters may appear in a story, its real concern is with just one: its hero or heroine. It is he with whose fate we identify, as we see him gradually developing towards that state of self-realization which marks the end of the story. Ultimately it is in relation to this central figure that all other characters in a story take on their significance. What each of the other characters represents is really only some aspect of the inner state of the hero or heroine themselves."
The Seven Basic Plots are the basics of plotting
Overcoming the Monster
Definition: The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist's homeland.
Rags to Riches
Definition: The poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.
Definition: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.
Voyage and Return
Definition: The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to them, they return with experience.
Examples: Ramayana, Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Orpheus, The Time Machine, Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Mad Max: Fury Road, Brideshead Revisited, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Gone with the Wind, The Third Man.
Definition: 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. 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. The majority of romance films fall into this category.
Definition: The protagonist's character flaw or great mistake which is their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally good character.
Definition: An event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better person.
- William Foster-Harris' The Basic Patterns of Plot sets out a theory of three basic patterns of plot.
- Ronald B. Tobias set out a twenty-plot theory in his 20 Master Plots.
- Georges Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.
- Several of these plots can also be seen as reworkings of Joseph Campbell's, work on the quest and return in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Scholars and journalists have had mixed responses to The Seven Basic Plots. Some have celebrated the book's audaciousness and breadth. The author and essayist Fay Weldon, for example, wrote the following (which is quoted on the front cover of the book): "This is the most extraordinary, exhilarating book. It always seemed to me that 'the story' was God's way of giving meaning to crude creation. Booker now interprets the mind of God, and analyses not just the novel – which will never to me be quite the same again – but puts the narrative of contemporary human affairs into a new perspective. If it took its author a lifetime to write, one can only feel gratitude that he did it." Beryl Bainbridge, Richard Adams, Ronald Harwood, and John Bayley also spoke positively of the work, while philosopher Roger Scruton described it as a "brilliant summary of story-telling".
Others have dismissed the book, criticizing especially Booker's normative conclusions. Novelist and literary critic Adam Mars-Jones, for instance, wrote, "He sets up criteria for art, and ends up condemning Rigoletto, The Cherry Orchard, Wagner, Proust, Joyce, Kafka and Lawrence—the list goes on—while praising Crocodile Dundee, E.T. and Terminator 2". Similarly, Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times writes, "Mr. Booker evaluates works of art on the basis of how closely they adhere to the archetypes he has so laboriously described; the ones that deviate from those classic patterns are dismissed as flawed or perverse – symptoms of what has gone wrong with modern art and the modern world."
- "The Seven Basic Plots of Storytelling". www.greenbelt.org.uk (Podcast). 2006. Event occurs at 01m00s. Retrieved 2013-09-11.
- Bateman, Chris (2005-10-11). "The Seven Basic Plots" (blog). Retrieved 2013-09-10.
- "the definition of comedy". Dictionary.com.
- "The "Basic" Plots in Literature". Retrieved 2013-09-11.
- "The Seven Basic Plots". Bloomsbury. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
- Scruton, Roger (February 2005). "Wagner: moralist or monster?". The New Criterion. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Adam Mars-Jones "Terminator 2 Good, The Odyssey Bad", The Observer, November 21, 2004, retrieved September 1, 2011.
- Kakutani, Michiko (2005-04-15). "The Plot Thins, or Are No Stories New?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-11.
- Google Books
- "Everything ever written boiled down to seven plots", review by Kasia Boddy, The Telegraph, 2004-11-21
- "Terminator 2 good, The Odyssey bad", review by Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer, 2004-11-21
- "The Plot Thins, or Are No Stories New?", review by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, 2005-04-15
- "The Seven Basic Plots", blog entry summarizing the book, Chris Bateman, 2005-10-11
- "Once Upon a Time", review by Denis Dutton, The Washington Post, 2005-05-08
- "The Seven Basic Plots", review by Clive Bradley, Workers' Liberty, 2005-12-25
- "What are the seven basic literary plots?", Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope, 2000-12-24
- 'The "Basic" Plots in Literature', IPL2