It has been said for many years that there are no original plots out there in the world. Rob Parnell agrees as he suggests that there are only Seven Great Story Plots. In fact Aristole believed there only to be six! Rob‘s seven are:
- The Quest - You’ve seen it a thousand times, especially in Fantasy stories. The hero must overcome obstacles, enlist the help of friends, defeat enemies, all in pursuit of some far off goal – usually the saving of the world – with the use of some magical artefact.
- Voyage and Return - Similar to the Quest model, the main difference being that the protagonist is taken from his ‘real’ world and thrust on a journey of wonder and self discovery in the pursuit of wisdom or psychological benefit. The defeat of a monster (often a metaphor for the hero’s failings) is a mainstay of this plot.
- Rebirth - Otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey, where a protagonist must learn that adherence to his or her past life and values will not help them grow, change or mature. The largely symbolic ‘death’ of the hero usually occurs at around the mid to three-quarter point in the story, from which he/she rises again, stronger, wiser and in control. Again the antagonist, monster or bad circumstance is an analogy for the main character’s initial problems.
- Comedy – Comedy isn’t always about what’s funny. It’s often about using the absurd to make observations about people at their worst. The best comedy uses its own internal logic to highlight inappropriate behaviour that can lead to the the same kind of resolution as the rebirth idea. Wisdom through experience etc.
- Tragedy - Usually centres around a high status character who forced is into a situation where they are downtrodden and the important things in their life are taken from them. Often this is used as a starting point for a story - leading to revenge, justice, enlightenment, liberation etc. True tragedy has no resolution – only the realization that self importance can lead to pity, a sense of futility and death. Clearly not the kind of story that sells well these days!
- Overcoming the Monster - In essence similar to the Voyage and Return plot except that the ‘threat’ comes from within the protagonist’s world, as opposed to outside of it. The hero must defeat real or imagined ‘monsters’ to re-establish the status quo – often by absorbing the ‘evil’ into their world view.
- Rags to Riches - Often the hero is plucked from seeming obscurity and given great wealth and power only to have it taken from them. The story revolves around the protagonist’s struggle to re-acquire their new status, through the defeat of a new found set of obstacles.
Rob goes on to say that a single thread runs through all seven plots, that of transformation. Without this change there is in fact no story at all. Finally he concludes by saying that, “in Art there’s no such thing as copying, borrowing or theft. There’s really only re-interpretation by the individual.” I’m sure many a copyright lawyer would disagree with you on that one!