Throughout history and across the globe every known society has produced stories. Whether it is told around a campfire in a primeval jungle or in a bus bound for nowhere we tell our tales. In contemporary society the resources dedicated to storytelling are remarkable. Think of how much time, money and effort is spent on movies alone. Stories are truly central to our lives. In the book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker outlines the basic plots of a story. Booker suggests that all successful stories utilize at least one of these basic plots. I have yet to find a story that doesn’t.
Overcoming The Monster – One great example of this is Jaws, the famous Steven Spielberg film of the 1970s. Spielberg’s enduring shark-tale addresses many of the key factors that make monsters …well, monsters. Numerous other examples of this basic plot type are found in myths, folklore, fairy tales, religion, and film. Again and again, man is forced to face his demons and overcome the odds to kill the beast.
The Rags to Riches Tale – This one really needs no explanation. However, if you think about it this is very similar to overcoming the monster. The lack of money is the beast and it is killed when the main character makes good. This simple plot is used throughout history and in the most diverse of cultures. After all who did not cheer for Cinderella when she finally got her prince charming?
The Quest – This is my personal favorite. The best example I can come up with is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The idea of a man searching for answers and doing what it takes makes for great storytelling. We have seen this being used for thousands of years to create stories that are as fascinating to us as they were to our ancestors.
Voyage and Return – While almost Identical to the quest it differs in one very important way. The quest takes you from point A to point B and resolves itself. In this plot type, the main character makes a journey only to find out that he must return to the beginning and face whatever it was he was running from. Homer’s Odyssey is a prime example of this and gives credence to the ageless ability of tales to be told, retold and kept for generations.
Comedy – Stories of this type are highlighted by misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and disguises. Only in the end are the true identities of the characters and their intentions revealed. I have never been a big fan of comedy. I will admit though in literature it does have its place. Finding examples of this is not hard to do at all. I guess if I had to pick a favorite I would have to go with a movie that I watched quite a few times, Mel Brook’s smash hit, Young Frankenstein.
Tragedy – Who doesn’t love a good tear-jerker once in a while? Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet are two examples of this. We see this plot type being used again and again in so many different ways. I think we like to hear about the trials and troubles of others so we can say, “Well at least I didn’t get poisoned or run through with a saber”.
Rebirth – Again this is one of my favorites. This plot type is best illustrated in stories like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. An evil man gets a second chance in life and makes the most of it. These are stories of hope, change, and rebirth.
What all of these fundamental plot types share in common is …it’s all about human development and becoming a mature person. Needing to tell a story is not a sign of creativity, but a measure of how we have become separated from our own basic nature and what we need to do to go back. The purpose of stories? They teach us how to grow-up and tell us how others did it.
This Week’s Podcast: On the show this week Jason Dowd joins us to talk about and tell stories about the Dogman. Also, we play part two of The Diamond Thunderbolt. You can listen to this podcast on Thursday at Ron’s Amazing Stories, download it from iTunes, stream it on Stitcher Radio or on the mobile version of Spotify. Do you prefer the radio? We are heard every Thursday at 10:00 pm and Sunday Night at 11:00 PM (EST) on AMFM247.COM. Check your local listing or find the station closest to you at this link.
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