The Seven Basic Plots

What mood were you in when you wrote this?!

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Various writing experts have come up with theories about how many types of story plots there are, and one of the best-known is Christopher Booker's list from his book Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.

Summarised, they are:

*Overcoming the Monster

*Rags to Riches

*The Quest

*Voyage & Return




I remember feeling slightly offended when I first heard this theory, annoyed that something I love doing—reading books—had been analysed and broken down into a formula. Since returning to creative writing, I'm more aware of how plotting needs to follow long-established conventions to succeed with potential readers.

It's all very well to boast that your novel is "genre-busting" or that you've written experimental literature,
but you're defying centuries of convention and are likely to confuse someone browsing for a book to read. We're all librarians at heart, relying on organised systems to find stuff. It's how we get through life with minimum hassle.

My own Cornish Detective series novels are, like most crime stories, plotted to Overcome the Monster. I rather like the sense of justice involved in that, which is why I've found writing short stories for competitions so challenging this summer, as several were based on Tragedy or Rebirth. My crime novels show the wound of the crime, but my protagonist detective provides a source of healing by righting a wrong. My short stories had no neat conclusion, so sat there like a weeping ulcer! :confused:

What sort of novels do you write plot-wise?

Do you agree with Christopher Booker's plot categories, or can you think of other types of stories?

Oh plotting, my bête noire.

I like to work with conflict and desire.What makes a character angry, enraged, hungry for revenge. What happens when falling in love derails a character's life. Mother-daughter tensions always pop up in my narratives. I have dead fathers who haunt characters and hang around on the periphery. I like hopeless quests that can't possibly work out.

Nothing particularly original in any of this. What I trust in is the particularity that gives uniqueness to any human story. A few weeks ago I was travelling in the Karoo in South Africa and saw a great four-poster wooden bed standing out in the veld, weathered and silvered with exposure and age. A local farmer's wife died in 1924 while giving birth. Her mother-in-law hated her freethinking son's wife and wouldn't allow her to be buried in the family graveyard on the farm, so the husband buried her out on the veld and carried out his mother's marriage bed, the bed in which he had been born, to mark her grave. There it stands to this day.

Revenge (overcoming the monster M-I-L). Comedy. Tragedy. It couldn't have happened anywhere else.

The genius is in the detail?
And after such a death as that, the old bag's directive was actually upheld? Wicked old moo. Serve her right if he had burned the bed, Viking style.
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What mood were you in when you wrote this?!

Books as Friends