Episode 180: It’s All Been Done Before

On March 26, 2022, Kasie and Rex took on Christopher Booker’s 7 Basic Plots. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Seven Basic Plots

Agenda

  • What are the 7 Basic Plots?
  • Deeper Dive on one or two
  • How to write the one (or two) we focus on
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Segment 1

The South Carolina Writers Association announces the opening of registration for the Fall Conference at Pawley’s Island being held October 21-23 at the Litchfield Beach Resort. Click here to register. Presentations include keynotes by Leigh Stein and Ashley Jones and workshops by poet Gary Jackson and agents Felice Laverne and Amy Bishop. The most diverse and unique line up we’ve ever had at a conference and of course all of your favorites on pitching, publishing, and marketing.

Let’s talk Seven Basic Plots. So this comes from the book by Christopher Booker which was basically his opus. It was the culmination of his career studying literature, and, honestly, is a pretty comprehensive list. So a couple of caveats:

  • It’s a list of basics which means they’re not all encompassing and there are certainly exceptions.
  • It’s an attempt to generalize which means they’re open for interpretation.
  • We came to this from the heroine’s journey which we found had been defined no fewer than three times by three different writers. 

So what should you do with this? Whatever works for you. Like all those who came before us with their writing advice, we are not immortal or infallible. This is just our interpretation.

Here are the 7 Basic Plots:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Too general to be useful? Helpful in terms of a general outline for setting (and meeting) expectations?

So this is not an exhausted list. Certainly items 5 and 6 leave a LOT of room for interpretation. This blog points out there are other models with more “basic” outlines. Specifically, the author of that blog identifies “Mystery” and “Rebellion Against ‘the one’” as items 8 & 9 on the list.

Segment 2/3

One at a time: define it, give examples, and talk about how to do it.

  1. Overcoming the Monster – sometimes it’s the big bad, it’s corporate, or expectations; Ready Player One, Newsies, Jaws
    1. Man vs. nature – weather, natural disaster
    2. Man vs. society – Robots, the rules, the oppressive “other”; anti-conformity
    3. Man vs. himself – mental illness, ego, etc.
  2. Rags to Riches – downtrodden makes good by earning their place via talent, skills, or magic; Anastasia, Aladdin, Annie, Cinderella
    1. Skill and hard work
    2. Magic, talent, or beauty
  3. The Quest – the hero’s journey, the heroine’s journey; identify a goal and work to achieve it; Tangled, Goonies, Lord of the Rings, Moana
  4. Voyage and Return – go away from home in search of fortune, discover on return that home has changed; The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Back to the Future, Castaway, Big, Cars, Doc Hollywood
  5. Comedy – a light and humorous character who finds a happily ever after, or a dramatic work with the theme being triumph over circumstances; in either case, HEA applies; Shrek, Much Ado About Nothing, The Big Lebowski
  6. Tragedy – protagonist with major character flaw that ends up being his undoing; not an HEA (obvy); Hamilton, Gatsby, Moby Dick, Anna Karenina
  7. Rebirth – an event forces the main character to change their ways and become a better individual; Pride and Prejudice, Princess & the Frog, Beauty and the Beast

Segment 4

We usually hit section 4 with a “how to” but we built that into the previous segments of exploring each type. So, instead, let’s compare Booker’s 7 Basic to other models that attempt to do the same thing.

From the previous blog, we learned of “Dramatica” which claims:

Dramatica is an entirely new way of looking at story. Beyond simply a paradigm or sequence of cultural beats, Dramatica theorizes why stories exist and attempts to outline the processes and dramatic touchpoints needed to tell a successful and meaningful story.

So maybe we need an entire show on Dramatica?

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