According to Christopher Booker’s THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS, he has been able to reduce every fiction novel down to its most basic plot element and discovered that there are only 7 different plots possible.  I did not have the time to read such a voluminous book, so I read this article instead:

When my good friend showed me the article (which summarizes THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS), it left me disheartened. I felt a wave of discouragement, as if it’s all been done before. I felt like my goal of ‘being as original as possible’ had just been rendered null. However, I realized that despite the lack of variety in plot choices, every story is unique because it’s always about the story, and how the characters choose to overcome the specific challenges that face them. The story and their characters are what make each novel unique, not the plot.

THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS goes more in depth into the psychology as to why we are ‘programmed’ to imagine stories in these ways. Please read the article and/or book for a more in-depth look at what the seven basic plots consist of, but I have provided a short list below:

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

On the flip side of this argument, I just finished reading On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and he talks about how you do not need a plot to write a book. When he writes a story, he conceives of a single situation and then a book is born.  For example, what if a girl that was bullied through high school had telekinesis? Carrie. However, in my opinion, the ending to a situation-based story can feel like it is lacking closure when compared to the ending of a plot-based story.

My story (as I’m sure many of you will also say) does not fall within one specific category listed. I have some of The Quest, but mostly my story falls into Overcoming the Monster. However, the “monster” in my novel does not fall into the 3 basic roles listed in the article. Regarding the Quest, while I do have a party of companions that follows my hero, they did not encounter obstacles on the actual journey… the obstacles they encountered (among discovering a runaway traitor or “monster”) happened to them at home and are the reason why they left to go on the journey.

So, are there really only 7 types of plots? I welcome all your thoughts and opinions on this subject. Please leave a comment.

3 thoughts on “Are There Only 7 Basic Plots?

  1. I’d like to suggest another option: character driven stories. They do not revolve so much around plot as they do around intriguing and in depth characters. In these, the reader feels much more powerfully drawn to whatever happens because of their connection to the characters. Also in situation stories there is still a plot bat I would claim fits into one of the 7 categories, even if theme or depth of character are lacking. I prefer character driven myself. Tragedies are a good example. (I.e. Gladiator- if you didn’t care about Maximus why would you care that he dies at the end?)

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