Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Seven basic plots and one variation

In my wanders through literature, I found the suggestion that there are only seven basic plots on which all stories are based. The idea comes from a book by the aptly named Christopher Booker, which was published in 2004 and comprises a staggering 736 pages. Apparently one of the seven plots is not brevity. The publisher’s synopsis suggests that Booker proposes a “hidden universal language” that underlies every story told and gives us a new way of understanding “what stories are and why we tell them.”

Naturally Amazon declined to list these plots, but the blogosphere was more obliging. A quick google found the website of game designer Chris Bateman who obliging provides the following list with examples:

1. Overcoming the Monster (and the Thrilling Escape from Death) e.g. Beowulf, War of the Worlds, Star Wars: A New Hope
2. Rags to Riches e.g. Cinderella, Great Expectations
3. The Quest e.g. The Odyssey, Watership Down
4. Voyage & Return e.g. Alice in Wonderland, Gone With the Wind
5. Comedy e.g. some Shakespeare, Jane Austen
6. Tragedy e.g. Macbeth, Anna Karenina
7. Rebirth e.g. Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol

My pondering on these plots and their significance for me was interrupted by Blithe Boy informing me that he had swallowed a Chinese checker. Being the third child, not the first (for whom when I called the nurse-practitioner at our clinic over a massive bang on the head, the nurse memorably said “This must be your first child honey”), I carefully examined the checkers set and my son. Before calling our clinic, I checked the shape of the checker and concluded that it probably wouldn’t harm him. I then carefully placed all the checkers in the right spots and found none missing. Conclusion: stand-down red alert and rehousing of checkers in less accessible location.

I can’t decide what plot this story falls under: comedy, overcoming the monster or the quest. Sometimes raising children seems like all three.

1 comment:

BabySis said...

I'd say it was a Voyage and Return, at least for Blithe Boy. Have you seen the movie, Stranger than Fiction, in which Will Ferrell discovers he is the protagonist in Emma Thompson's currently-being-written novel? I am not a huge Ferrell fan, but it's a wonderful film -- panicked at the discovery (as we all would be), he runs to a Literature professor to help him ensure that he lives a Comedy not a Tragedy.

You must have read Joseph Campbell, too. I've read a few books that drew on Booker, without taking on his tome directly. Interesting stuff, but sometimes I wonder if it reduces ad absurdum?

And according to some sources, there are only 16 characters, as well.