Some people plan in detail. Others prefer to just start writing. Below are common patterns of story. You may wish to use this to plan a story or to see if a finished story is working.
Basic four character theory
There are four basic characters: the hero, the friend, the enemy, and the mentor
The hero is usually human
The friend, enemy or the mentor may not be human
Story comes from the interaction and tension between them
The mentor usually disappears, leaving the hero to have the adventure on their own.
Campbell, Propp, Vogler theory
Joseph Campbell surveyed lots of fairy stories and modern stories. Propp looked primarily at folk stories. Vogler adapted Campbell’s theory for the film industry. Vogler claims that his theory actually works slightly better of it is a little skewed.
According to these three the heroes go through the following hoops:
- The Ordinary World (V) Hero leaves society (P)
- Call to adventure (V)
- Refusal of the Call (C,V)
- Meeting with the Mentor (V) Supernatural Aid (C) Meets a stranger (P)
- Crossing the First Threshold (V)
- The Belly of the Whale (V), Trials, Allies, Enemies (V), The Road of Trials, Arduous Journey (P) Capture by Strange Warriors (P)
- The Meeting with the Goddess (C) Protection by ugly girl (P)
- Woman as temptress (C) Appearance of the Queen, the beloved one (P)
- The Approach to the Innermost Cave (V) Lovemaking (P)
- Ordeal (V)
- Atonement with the Father ( C )
- Apotheosis ( C )
- The Ultimate Boon ( C ), Reward (V), Resolution (P)
- Refusal of the Return (C)
- The Magical Flight (V)
- Rescue from without ( C )
- The Road Back (V)
- Master of Two Worlds (C) Resurrection (V)
- Freedom to Live (C) Return with the Elixir (V)
Booker’s seven basic plots
Christopher Booker recognises seven basic plots;
- Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage and Return
He gives us more detail:
Overcoming the monster
Rags to Riches
Initial wretchedness at home (call)
Out in the world – initial success
Independence and the final ordeal
Final union, completion and fulfilment
Journey to the underworld
Voyage and return
Arrival and frustration
Voyage and return
Thrilling escape and return
- 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:
- Dark figure is hero themself
- No dark figures
Act One - anticipation
Act Two – dream stage
Act Three – frustration stage
Act Four – nightmare stage
Act Five – destruction stage
Booker also recognises an overall story form:
Severe – constriction
Dark power dominant
Reversal and liberation
Robert McKee’s Story was also written for the film industry but is no longer so popular there now.
It seems like a simplified version of the Campbell / Propp / Vogler theory and is in fact similar to Booker’s overarching template:
Inciting incident / hook
Growing complexities (The longer the novel, the more there are. Usually there are at least three.)
If you want to study McKee’s book, I recommend reading the whole book, then reread Chapter 14.
Plots and sub-plots
Both I and Andrew Melrose’s present theories about the relationship between plot and sub plot.
Melrose: sub-plots are proportional to each other and to the main plot. These proportions form a pyramid.
Is there something of the Golden Segment in this?
My theory embraces Melrose’s but adds that each sub-plot is part of the main plot and the next biggest sub-plot.
We both say that the smallest sub-plot contains the “aha” moment. There is often some sort of epiphany for the hero.
In addition I say that this smallest sub-plot forms a bridge to the main plot.
See below how this pans out in Cinderella.
Main plot: Cinder’s life is transformed.
Sub-plot 1: she has a battle with the ugly step-sisters and her step-mother
Sub-plot 2: she wants to go to the ball but is prevented and then overcomes that prohibition.
Sub-plot 3: the fairy godmother helps her to get to the ball but imposes restrictions
Sub-plot 4: she overcomes these restrictions to have a relationship with the prince
Sub-plot 5: the slipper is all important – it must fit Cinders’ foot (and note the obstacles that stand in the way of that! Even a sub-plot has a whole story arc)
Working with Archetypes
You can also put together characters based on the archetypes. See what happens:
• Good old man
• Innocent young girl
• Rival or “shadow”
• Other self
Have a go
- Even if you don’t normally plan your stories in detail, have a go at planning one of the stories according to one of the templates provided above.
- Test out another of the theories in something you’re reading.
- Do you have a story that is not quite working? Test against a third theory.