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Booker’s Seven Basic Plots
Part I: The Seven Gateways to the Underworld
Click to add Text
Christopher Booker states in his book
The Seven Basic Plots storytelling is
woven around rudimentary plots and
archetypes.
He later goes on to argue that these
plots are inescapable and as well as
entertain, help to define the human
condition.
Brooker, C, 2004 The Seven Basic Plots:
Why We Tell Stories
The plots are:
Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Tragedy
Rebirth
Overcoming the Monster
“Legends of the slaughter of a destructive monster
are to be found all over the world. The thought
underlying them all is that the monster slain is
preternatural and hostile to mankind” -
E.S. Hartland, The Legend of Perseus (1896)
Overcoming the Monster
Essence of the plot:
A village is taken over by an evil force or power.
The monster threatens to destroy cities, worlds or
individuals, often has in its possession a precious
object, treasure or prize
The hero will confront the monster
The Hero will closely escape death, slays the
monster, and take for himself the precious object
and the respect of the village.
Rags to Riches
“Rags to Riches is essentially what the American
Dream can be condensed to. A child grows up with
oppressive living conditions or authority figures,
usually in poverty, and overcomes them to end the
story with wealth, status, a companion, and usually a
kingdom of some kind. Key to the story is a point
where the protagonist seems to have achieved
success, but it’s too early, and he or she isn’t ready for
it, and everything comes crashing down around them.”
Bureman, L, The Write Practice website 2013
Rags to Riches
Legend of King Arthur
Pygmalion/My Fair
Lady
The Ugly Duckling
Aladdin
Rags to Riches
The plot is rooted in folk tales from
around the world and is regarded as
one of the most basic stories in the
world.
Rags to Riches: the central
crisis
Early on the story, the inferior hero
experiences some success and is elevated
from his original lowly status.
However, these changes in fortune are
superficial, and soon the hero encounters a
CENTRAL CRISIS in which all seems lost.
(Eg. When Annie's 'real' parents show up and
reveal themselves to be crooks.)
Rags to Riches: plot outline
Initial wretchedness at home & “the call”: we
are introduced to the hero in his or her lowly
and unhappy state. This phase ends when
something happens to call them out into a
wider world.
Out into the world, initial success: early
efforts are rewarded, and the hero may have
some glimpse of the greater glory s/he may
someday achieve.
Rags to Riches: plot outline
The central crisis: reduced to a new
powerlessness, this is the worst part of the
story for the hero or heroine.
Independence and the final ordeal: the hero
is discovering in himself a new independent
strength. The hero is put to a final test, in
which a dark rival may stand between the
hero and ultimate fulfillment.
Rags to Riches: plot outline
Final union, completion and fulfilment:
the reward is usually a state of
complete, loving union with the “Prince”
or “Princess”. They may also succeed
to some kind of kingdom. The implied
ending is that “they lived happily ever
after”.
The Quest
Homer’s Odyssey
The Lord of the
Rings
Indiana Jones
movies
Essence of the plot
Far away, there is a priceless goal,
worth any effort to achieve: a
treasure, a promised land, 30 sliders
from White Castle, something of
infinite value. The hero sets out on a
hazardous journey to attain the goal
and overcomes any number of
perilous hindrances in order to
achieve the objective.
The Quest: the call
The quest usually begins on a note of
urgency: it is no longer possible for the
hero to stay “at home” or stationary.
Something has gone disastrously
wrong, or a faraway threat looms.
The Quest: final ordeals
The journey in a Quest only makes up
half of the story; when the goal is finally
within sight, the hero must face a final
ordeal or series of ordeals.
It is this final struggle which is
necessary for the hero to lay hold of his
prize and secure it.
The Quest: plot outline
The Call:
The Journey:
Arrival and frustration:.
The final ordeal:
The goal:
Voyage and Return
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Alice in Wonderland
The Time Machine
Robinson Crusoe
Gone with the Wind
Voyage and Return: essence
of the plot
The hero or heroine travels out of their
familiar, everyday “normal” surroundings
into another world completely cut off
from the first, where everything seems
abnormal. The early experience might
feel exhilarating, but eventually a
shadow intrudes. By a “thrilling escape”
the hero is returned to his normal world.
Comedy



Twelfth Night
Anchorman
The Interview
“The essence of comedy is that some
redeeming truth has to be brought out of the
shadows and into the light.”
Booker, C, 2004 - p123
Comedy: above/below the line
Above the line: characters representing the
established order, an upper social level and
hierarchy; authority of men over women,
adults over children
Below the line: servants, people of inferior
class, wives, the rising generation
The chief source of darkness in the story is
on the upper level; the road to liberation lies
on the lower level
The road to resolution lies below the line!
…so where do the laughs
come from?
Almost uniformly, the aspect of comedy that
elicits laughter from the audience is a
character’s egocentricity, his tunnel-vision, his
inability to see the world as it is.
Tragedy
Since you should already be familiar with
many of the basic tenets of tragedy, this
section will focus mainly on the genre’s
relationship to comedy and archetypal
variations.
Tragedy (1): Five Stages
1. Anticipation Stage: hero is in some way
incomplete or unfulfilled. Some object of
desire or course of action presents itself to
the hero. When the hero succumbs to this
desire or thought, he has found his “focus”:
Macbeth decides to assassinate King
Duncan, Icarus yields to his desire to fly close
to the sun; Dr. Jekyll drinks his potion.
Tragedy (1): Five Stages
2. Dream Stage: hero commits to his focus,
and for awhile everything is peachy. He feels
gratified and seems to be getting away with
his crime or error.
3. Frustration Stage: Things begin to go
wrong. Hero feels restless and insecure,
commits further dark acts to secure or retain
his position and feelings from the Dream
Stage.
Tragedy (1): Five Stages
4. Nightmare Stage: Things are now slipping
completely out of the hero’s control. Forces
of opposition and fate are closing in on him;
hero falls into rage or despair.
5. Destruction or Death Wish: either by the
forces he has aroused against him, or by
some final act of violence which precipitates
his own death, the hero is destroyed.
Rebirth: synopsis
A hero or heroine falls under a dark spell
which eventually traps them in some wintry
state, akin to living death: physical or spiritual
imprisonment, sleep, sickness or some other
form of enchantment.
For a long time they languish in this frozen
condition Then a miraculous act of
redemption takes place, focused on a
particular figure who helps liberate the hero or
heroine from imprisonment.
Rebirth: Plot points
1. Hero falls under the shadow of a dark
power.
2. Poison takes some time to work up to its
full effect.
3. Total isolation: the darkness emerges in full
force
4. Nightmare stage: odds seem stacked
against a rescue of the hero
5. Reversal/ awakening: imprisoned figure is
freed by the power of love