The seven stories: the themes all plots have in common

Christopher Booker tried to identify the seven plots in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. His idea seems to have stuck! This time, I’ll be drawing on his ideas, discussing them, and developing these ideas in fiction.

Jung and the Collective Unconscious

Jung believed in archetypes and universal concerns/themes which all humans experienced – love, freedom, death, etc. And the most important factor is the Self. He placed great emphasis on archetypes, and the same can said of characters, plots and themes. Various examples might be The Tree of Life, the seven circles of heaven/hell, The Elixir of Immortality/Life and the Fountain of Youth.

1. The Quest

The protagonist goes off on a journey, usually to do or obtain something, and travels to various places and meets new people. It is very popular in myths and legends, such as the Arthurian legends.  The Odyssey, The Neverending Story and Sexing the Cherry are considered notable examples.

2. Rags to Riches

This is the ‘zero to hero’ story. The hero tends to become popular because of their newfound riches, wisdom or beauty. Will they manage without it? It might cause Popular types include Cinderella and Aladdin

3. Rebirth

This is where a character undergoes a transformation and becomes a new person. They might be a villain who redeems themselves. One might think of a Phoenix, since they are reborn time after time. The Passion of New Eve, Beauty and the Beast and A Christmas Carol are popular examples.

4. Overcoming the monster

Dracula is a notable example of this plot type. It normally focuses on binary oppositions between a protagonist and an antagonist. The ‘monster’ can be psychological, supernatural, mechanical, human or something non-physical like cancer or society. It has what is considered a fundamental part of fiction: conflict.

5. Voyage and return

One or more characters go off on a journey, return and come back with only memories. It’s usually a fourth dimension, mystical world/planet or even time travel that the characters go to. There is usually a travelling companion in this story. Peter Pan, Sand Alice in Wonderland all fit  the bill.

6. Tragedy

Where a tragic hero has a tragic flaw, and goes downhill. It might be exposed by a villain, circumstance or a revelation. It’s often very heartfelt and includes strong emotions such as passion, anger, revenge, jealousy and fear. In Renaissance drama, nearly everyone is dead.  Hamlet, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Carmen and Romeo and Juliet are all tragic stories.

7. Comedy

A lighthearted piece of fiction. It’s not the same as satire, which mocks and ridicules. Clown figures, irony, caricatures and ridiculous scenarios are often in these stories. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Limericks and arguably Catch 22 might be ‘comic’ forms of literature. 

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