7 Story Plots
Looking at the number of
remakes that Hollywood churns out, you'd be forgiven for thinking that
original stories are in short supply.
But actually, remakes are not
about creating new stories. They're more concerned with reworking old hooks, because,
the truth is: the public is far responsive to familiarity than
An even closer look reveals
that it's not the premise of an old idea that is appealing so much as
that Hollywood is interested in developing in a more modern
The same logic applies to
famous books and comic book stories that already have substance (that
is, personality) in the
mind of the potential viewer.
The very familiarity of old
stories lends them a kind of nebulous mystique that can
generate interest in a potential audience long before
before anything is known about a plot.
There is also a theory that
there are only so many plots anyway.
Seven plots to be
precise (although that wise old dude Aristotle only identified six.)
Further, in some quarters, it
is believed that any story told now is really only a retelling of the
one of the few basic scenarios established perhaps ten thousand years
If you study story writing,
you'll come across the 'hero's journey' plot in almost all fiction -
that is, just one story
we apparently enjoy endlessly.
More, we may not even realize
we're being fed the same basic hero's journey story - if it is
successfully associated with an 'original' sounding premise, no matter
how many times we experience it.
Incidentally, film producers
actually get quite sniffy if you don't
have the classic hero's journey elements clearly delineated within your
plot. From this perspective, the idea that you can be in any way original in a
screenplay is almost a contradiction in terms.
Aside from that, what are the
alleged seven basic plot lines that underpin all stories?
1. The Quest
You've seen it a thousand
times, especially in fantasy-based stories. The hero must overcome
obstacles, enlist the help of friends, defeat enemies, all in pursuit
of some far off goal - usually the saving of the world - and almost
always with the use of some magical or symbolic artifact.
Lord of the Rings, Harry
Potter, Apocalypse Now, Escape to Witch Mountain, the Narnia series,
Conan, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Walking Dead...
Voyage and Return
to the Quest model, the main difference being that the protagonist is
taken from his 'real' world and thrust on a journey of wonder and
self-discovery in the pursuit of wisdom or psychological
defeat of a monster (often a metaphor for the hero's failings) is a
mainstay of this plot.
Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's
Travels, The Odyssey, Back to the Future, Wizard of Oz - even
many horror stories use this same basic premise.
known as The Hero's
Journey, where a protagonist must learn that adherence to
his or her past life and values will not help growth or
largely symbolic 'death' of the hero usually occurs at around the mid
to three-quarter point in the story, from which he/she rises again,
stronger, wiser, and in control, usually with a mindset that enhances
the world around him or her.
the antagonist, monster, or bad circumstance is an analogy for the main
character's initial problems.
comic book hero has rebirth at the core of the story.
examples include A Christmas Carol, Beauty and
the Beast, all Judd Apatow's movies, Transformers, even
most TV shows that feature crime-solving (Law and Order, CSI, Monk, Bones etc.)
often contain the idea that solving a mystery leads to a mini rebirth
at the end of each case.
isn't always about what's funny. Originally, the term 'comedie' was
used to denote any drama that wasn't tragic.
too, the term 'romance' originally meant any and all fiction.)
is often about using the absurd to make observations about people at
their worst. The best comedy uses its own internal logic to highlight
inappropriate behavior that can lead to the the same kind of resolution
as the Rebirth plot.
Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying, When
Harry Met Sally and
many other rom coms, most TV sitcoms: The Big Bang Theory, Two and
Half Men, The Office etc.
centers around a high status character who is forced into a
situation where he or she is downtrodden and the important things in
life are taken. Often this is used as a starting point for a
story, leading to revenge, justice, enlightenment, liberation
tragedy has no resolution - only the realization that self-importance
can lead to pity, a sense of futility, and a deserving death. Clearly
not the kind of story that sells well these days!
Shakespeare is tragic: Hamlet, Richard III, Romeo and
Juliet, but also The Godfather series, The Sopranos, even House,
Overcoming the Monster
essence, similar to the Voyage and Return plot except that the 'threat'
comes from within the
protagonist's world, as opposed to outside of it.
hero must defeat real or imagined 'monsters' to re-establish the status
quo - often by absorbing the 'evil' into his or her own worldview.
indeed almost all vampire stories,
and Hyde, Jaws, James Bond stories, Hansel and Gretel, The Hannibal series
the hero is plucked from seeming obscurity and given great wealth and
power only to have it taken away. The story revolves around the
protagonist's struggle to re-acquire his or her new status, through the
defeat of a newfound set of obstacles.
Aladdin, Cinderella, Great
Places, even stories like The Matrix and Harry
this plotline as a starting point.
this list, it's clear there's just one thread running through all these
seven basic plots.
that is: the idea that any story is about transformation.
I would suggest that unless a character is transformed in some
way by the events he or she experiences, then there is
actually no story at all.
want to mix and match the above story plots into something you can use
for your own fiction - and why not? It's what all great writers (and
some not so great) have been doing since writing and storytelling began.
there's no such thing as copying, borrowing, or theft.
really only unique re-interpretation by the individual.
all, it's not what you do
that is important, as much as how you go