Tuesday 14 November 2017

Fiction Workshops 15 Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots

Christopher Booker has produced a great tome of a book in which he defines seven plot outlines.  These don't actually contradict Campbell, McKee, Propp or Vogler but flesh out and fine tune some story lines. The rest of Booker's book discusses story in more detail. It is well worth a read and after you've read it you may want to go back to it from time to time.

You can take a short-cut to remembering the seven plots by just looking at the cover of the book. You'll see what I mean if you look at the link below.
Here's a summary:


The Seven Plots

Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return


Overcoming the monster

The call
Initial success
Final Ordeal
Miraculous escape   


Rags to Riches

Initial wretchedness at home (call)
Out in the world – initial success
Central crisis
Independence and the final ordeal
Final union, completion and fulfilment


Quest- Odyssey

Problems encountered:
Deadly opposites
Journey to the underworld

Story arc:

Arrival and frustration
Final ordeals


Voyage and return

Dream stage
Frustrations stage
Nightmare stage
Thrilling escape and return



Often contains:
  • Characters dressing up in disguise or swapping clothes 
  • Men dressing up as women  or vice versa
  • Secret assignations when the wrong person turns up
  • Characters hastily concealed in cupboards etc. 
Types of comedy:
  • Burlesque
  • Dark figure is hero themself
  • No dark figures


Macbeth (and other tragedies) 

Act One - anticipation
Act Two – dream stage
Act Three – frustration stage
Act Four – nightmare stage  
Act Five – destruction stage 



Hero falls under shadow of dark power
Threat may seem to recede
Threat approaches with full force
Dark power seems to triumph
Miraculous recovery – some input from hero, though


Some archetypes

Booker also mentions some common archetypes:
  • Good old man
  • Innocent young girl
  • Rival or “shadow”
  • Temptress


Dark figures

As well as archetypes, Booker identifies some common dark figures:
  • Father
  • Mother
  • Rivals
  • Other self 

Underlying shape

Booker also defines an underlying shape that is very similar to the ones we've met before.  
  • Initial phase
  • Opening out
  • Severe – constriction
  • Dark power dominant
  • Reversal and liberation

Reading exercise

Consider the novel you have most recently read. Which of Booker's stories does it conform to? Does it follow the underlying shape? Can you identify any archetypes or dark figures?

Writing exercises

1.Your work in progress

Take a look at your story. Does it follow one of Booker's templates? If not, would making it adhere more closely also make it more effective?
Would the inclusion of additional archetypes or dark figures make it more engaging?   

2. Start a new story

Take one of Booker's templates that appeal to you. You might like to consider one you've not used before. Now craft a story according to that template.    

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