Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

7basic-plots-300pixPlot matters (plus literary events from 1 Jan 2020)

Why do we tell stories? Why do we listen to them, watch them, read them? The plot is at the heart of things.  How do you devise one to keep your readers gripped? In a good novel, there  are endless ups and downs as well as unexpected twists. Angela J. Phillip goes in search of how to construct a perfect plot.

‘The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories’ (2004) by Christopher Booker
According to this book, there are only seven basic plots in the world, but first of all you need to be aware, and in control of the meta plot.

Consider this:
“However many characters may appear in a story, its real concern is with just one: its hero. It is the one whose fate we identify with, as we see them gradually developing towards that state of self-realization which marks the end of the story. Ultimately it is in relation to this central figure that all other characters in a story take on their significance. What each of the other characters represents is really only some aspect of the inner state of the hero himself.” (from The Seven Basic Plots by Booker)

It is easy to get carried away when writing a story, especially if  you have created several main characters. Booker reminds us that there should only ever be one hero. If there is more than one, the reader cannot easily identify and the story is likely to fail. Do you think this is always true?

Here are brief descriptions of the 7 plots that Booker identifies (definitions taken from Wikipedia – The seven basic plots). Can you fit your story into one of these? Booker thinks that all stories have one of these plots.

200pix-marie-bellando-mitjans-pefBUKL0674-unsplashOvercoming the Monster
Definition – “The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland.”

I’m sure you can think of many examples of this plot. James Bond, Star Wars etc.

200pix-wealth-bullion-gold-gold-bars-golden-47047Rags to riches
Definition – “The poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.”

Examples – Cinderella, Great Expectations etc.

The Quest
Definition – “The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.”

Examples – The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down etc.

200pix-voyage-sergey-pesterev-_VqyrvQi6do-unsplash copyVoyage & Return
Definition – “The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to them, they return with experience.”

examples – Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine etc.

200pix-jd-mason-dXP204Hy_U4-unsplash copyComedy
Definition – “Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. Booker stresses that comedy is more than humor. It refers to a pattern where the conflict becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event. The majority of romance films fall into this category.”

examples – Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridget Jones’s Diary etc.

Definition – “The protagonist’s character flaw or great mistake which is their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally good character.”

examples – Hamlet, Anna Karenina etc.

Definition – “An event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better person.”

examples – The Secret Garden, Beauty and the Beast etc.

Booker developed his theories to fit in with Jungian analysis. Do you agree with the theory that there are only seven basic plots throughout world literature? If it’s true, is it helpful to know what they are?

In stories, things almost always happen in threes. This is what Booker thinks.

“Again and again, things appear in threes . . .” There is rising tension and the third event becomes “the final trigger for something important to happen”. We are accustomed to this pattern from childhood stories such as Goldilocks and the Three BearsCinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. In adult stories, three can convey the gradual working out of a process that leads to transformation. This transformation can be downwards as well as upwards.” (Wikipedia)

There has been much criticism as well as praise for Booker’s theories. I think that they are worth considering and that’s why I’ve presented them here. I’m not sure what my final conclusion will be. What do you think?

Outline your plot before you start writing
Have a clear view of the problem your main protagonist will struggle with and how she/ he will solve it. That’s your story. It will be fine to change it as you write but it is helpful to have a clear view of where you are heading with your writing.

Make sure the characters solve their own problems
Don’t let the problems be resolved by someone who hasn’t appeared in the story. And don’t let the problems be resolved by an act of God. Endings like that are not satisfying because it’s as though all the rest of the story was for nothing.

Don’t drag out the ending
Once the story has finished, let it end. Don’t drag it out after the resolution. It will weaken the story and you will lose readers.

I’m offering this plot advice (gathered from other people) because I was unaware of it when I started writing and think that it might have been useful. I did start off with a plan and set off down my writing road until I ground to a terrible halt. My characters refused to do what was in the plan. They wouldn’t behave like that so in the end, I started again and followed them fairly blindly down the roads they decided to travel.

There are a variety of views on how to create a plan for your story. Ama Ata Aidoo, for instance, maintained that it was better not to have a plan at all, and what would James Joyce have thought of all this? How would Ulysses fit into the above?

I do think the plot is important but I’m still not entirely sure about the best way to create it. What is your opinion? Your experience?

And finally, here’s an online drama plot generator that you might or might not find useful. This came from Jane Friedman’s Electric Speed:
Reedsy Drama Plot Generator

images from &


Bookshops & Events

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page to see more.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Jan 2020: Book launch of Paul Anderson’s Suedeheads & film screening of Horace Ove’s ‘Reggae 1970’ at The Electric Palace Cinema, Old Town.
Please see Facebook page for details of other events.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at the Bookkeeper Bookshop Facebook page to see more.

The Hare & Hawthorn Bookshop 
51 George St, Hastings Old Town
For more information see the Hare & Hawthorn Facebook page.

Angela J. Phillip
I have a new website. As I said before, it’s only recently begun, but sadly not added to yet because I’ve been caught up with Christmas. But here is the New Year so things will move on.

To those who have already signed up for my Newsletter – I am hugely grateful. To anyone who hasn’t, I would be thrilled if you did.
The Newsletter will start soon.
Please see: The Newsletter signup form is on the right hand side as you scroll down.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

I wish all of you a happy, productive, healthy and joyful 2020! May you all achieve whatever you dream of. Thanks for reading.

Angela J. Phillip




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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Dec 31, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

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