The 7 Basic Plots: Bonus Plots!

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This post continues our ongoing series exploring Christopher Booker’s theory in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Write StoriesSee type 123456, and 7.

So we went through Christopher Booker's seven basic plots, and maybe you're feeling a little sad. What's left? That surely can't be all!

You're in luck. It's not.

bonus

Photo by Daniel Lobo

Booker's seven basic plots are not an exhaustive summary of every plot known to literature or film. They're just the main seven that he has identified through Jungian influence. Actually, he brings up an additional two plots that don't have extensive stages the way that the other plots do. These are the Rebellion Against The “One” and The Mystery.

The Rebellion Against The “One”

This plot type focuses on a solitary hero or heroine who ends up drawn to some power or force (which rules the world of the hero) against their will.

The hero spends the first half of the storyline insistent that he is right, and the power is wrong, but over the course of the story he comes to realize he has a very limited perception of reality, and that the reverse is true. In the end, the hero recognizes the governing force's right to rule.

Examples of the Rebellion plot include the book of Job in the Bible, and darker versions in both Brave New World and 1984.

The Mystery

The second bonus plot is the Mystery. If you're at all familiar with Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Encyclopedia Brown, you know this plot well.

In a Mystery plot, a riddle is posed, usually in the form of a crime that has been committed, and the hero or heroine spends the rest of the story solving the riddle.

Combinations of Plots

In addition to these two bonus plots, the other seven can be woven together to form more complex plots.

The Wizard of Oz is a blend of the Quest and the Voyage and Return, with a dash of Overcoming the Monster for good measure. The first book in the Harry Potter series alone has Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, and the Quest, before we get to the darker storylines in the later books. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has basically every type of plot except for Comedy woven together.

The combinations are endless, and as a result, we can continue to write in these basic seven plot types and still keep stories fresh and new.

After reviewing all seven (plus two) basic plot types, which is your favorite?

PRACTICE

Pick two or more of the plot types we've covered over the past seven weeks, and blend them together.

Spend fifteen minutes writing a scene from this hybrid plot, and post your practice in the comments. Be sure to check out the work of your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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7 Comments

  1. Janey Egerton

    Hi Liz,

    I’ve been trying to identify the type of plot that underlies the many novels I’ve read in recent years. A fun exercise!

    But there is one novel where I cannot decide. I hope that you know “Tipping the Velvet” by Sarah Waters, [*SPOILERS AHEAD*] the story of a young girl from Kent (Nancy) who comes to Victorian London following the girl she’s fallen in love with (Kitty), only to be betrayed by her after a short period of happiness. After that, Nancy more or less wanders through life without (as it seems to me) knowing herself what she’s actually seeking, and without making any real decisions. The only big decision comes a few pages before the end of the novel as Kitty searches for Nancy and tells her to come back, but Nancy refuses and decides to stay with someone else. Still, the book is fascinating and you can feel growing more and more mature along with Nancy, and when she finds what will probably be her real, ever-lasting love, you feel like you’re experiencing love for the first time yourself. (Needless to say, I strongly recommend this book.)

    First I thought that coming-of-age stories are always quests. But in this case, there is a journey, but no clear goal (at least for the protagonist; her only goal is not having to go back home), no sidekicks, no final ordeals (at least not more dramatic than the ordeals in between).

    What do you think?

    Janey

    Reply
    • epbure

      Hey Janey! I’m actually not familiar with Tipping the Velvet, but I’ll have to add it to my reading list. I’m always looking for new material. 🙂

      That being said, I’m not sure I can really offer an informed opinion without having read the book, but it sounds like if it were to fit one of the plot structures, you’ve got it right that it would be the Quest or the Voyage and Return, although I’m leaning more towards the Quest. because it sounds like the protagonist is trying not to return.

      Keep in mind that these plot types are just the opinion of Booker, but it’s fun to see which plot type fits a story, like you’ve been doing!

      Reply
  2. R.w. Foster

    What about the “Revenge” plot, or the “Romance” one?

    Reply
  3. Janey Egerton

    Here my attempt to combine tragedy and rebirth.

    —————————————————————-

    I was twelve the day my father told me about the family curse. I came back from school, worried how to tell my parents that the headmaster was citing them once more. I had been involved in a playground fight again. Back then, I didn’t know why trouble seemed to lie in wait for me. I tried to be a decent boy, a good student, a good son, a good brother. Only to fall again into a trap set by some black, invisible force that forced me to be dishonest, brutal and criminal. That day, I learned that it wasn’t just my imagination. It wasn’t just me blaming destiny instead of accepting my own blame.

    “Dad, Mr. Byron wants to see you —” I said as I opened the door of my father’s home office, hoping that Mum was not around because she was so much more upset than him every time.

    “Not now! Your grandfather has died. I need to talk to your uncle,” came back my father’s voice before I had entered the room.

    “Charles, Lieutenant Michaels just called,” I heard my father saying on the phone. “Dad committed suicide last night. The curse again. I wish I could blame you.”

    “Why me?” I imagined my uncle saying on the other side of the line. He and my father had grown into my grandfather’s world of organised crime. For them, the family business, as they called it, was an occupation like any other in the world. Instead of shame, they seemed to take pride in being criminals. But my uncle was the weak one. The one always trying to deny what he had done instead of dealing with the consequences of his acts.

    “Why you, you little piece of shit?” was my father’s angry response. “He sacrificed himself for you. Don’t pretend that you don’t know he made a deal with the Crown prosecutor? That’s why they dropped all the charges against you. He went to jail for you. And now he’s dead. But it’s not your fault. It’s that bloody curse. I want all prosecutors dealt with by tomorrow. You have to show him your gratitude.”

    “What curse are you talking about, Dad?” I asked shyly, after my father slammed down the phone.

    After a moment of vacillation, he decided to tell me, hoping that knowing might help avoid what was starting to manifest itself as unavoidable. His great-grandfather had been the first to enter the world of crime. Out of necessity at first. But instead of opting out when he had made enough money to solve his problems, he continued out of greed. And he ended up betraying his partner. After our patriarch had shot his best friend over a matter of hundred quid, his friend had cursed him. “Every single one of your descendants shall fall into the path of crime, and live a life of shame, and die a horrible death. Until not one of your stock remains.” My grandfather had just become the last victim of the curse. It had never failed.

    It didn’t help. The same way as my grandfather and my father and my uncle tried and failed before me, I tried and failed. I was sucked into a life of crime. Ten years later, it was me who made a deal with the enemy — the Simmons, the second most powerful crime family of our city, trying to pick the remains of our empire. The remains that had been left after my father and my uncle were brutally killed by my mum. She had had enough of a life of crime that she had not wanted, that she had not chosen for herself, and preferred to end the family business before their children were befallen. But it was too late. I was a part of it already. And, ironically, it was her desperate act that took my sister. As soon as she realised that Mum had killed our father, she decided to punish her and killed first Mum and then herself.

    “Now it’s your turn, David,” said the Old Simmons, pointing a gun at my head. “Tell me where your gold is and —”

    “And what?” I asked coldly. I was not afraid. This was the curse. I knew that it would happen sooner or later. I had started preparing for that moment ten years previously. “You’ll kill me anyway.”

    “Yes, I will,” said the Old Simmons, and he laughed maniacally. “But I’m giving your son a chance. You give me your bank codes, and I promise that I won’t kill your son.”

    “I’ve got no son,” I screamed. “Now pull the trigger, you bloody bastard!”

    “We’ve done our homework, David. We know the lassie you got pregnant last year, before you dropped out of uni to become your old man’s right hand. We know where she lives. We have seen her son, a beautiful six-month old with your blue eyes. So young, and he’s already got the mad gaze of your lot,” he said, not losing a bit of his temper while the barrel of his gun made contact with my forehead. “You give us the codes, and we let him live. He will never know who he is — the last of your breed. Maybe he can escape the curse.”

    I closed my eyes and thought about my son. About the day of his birth. I remember him sleeping peacefully in the arms of his mother, a little angel who didn’t deserve to become one of us. So I told his mother that I never wanted to see her or her child again. If she wanted money, she would get money, but I didn’t want to be his father. That broke my heart, but I hoped that I was giving him a chance to escape the curse. And now Old Simmons was reminding me that the curse still existed.

    I gave him the codes and he pulled the trigger. I will never forget the searing pain caused by the bullet breaking my skull, the hot blood running down my face, the anger. But that pain was of short duration. Not like the punishment that my bodyless soul is enduring now. The punishment for my family’s… No! For my own life of crime will last for ever, and knowing that is infinitely more painful than anything I felt while I was still alive.

    But He is generous. He will not forgive me, but He wants to reward me for trying to protect my son until the end. I’m going back to Earth now. He’s giving me the chance to become my son’s guardian angel. I know that I will come back here and continue to be punished for ever as soon as my son dies, but I’m going to do my best to keep him from wandering from the straight and narrow. If I succeed, the eternity afterwards will seem to be only half as long.

    Reply
  4. Yvette Carol

    I always write The Quest, whether Iike it or not, it seems that’s the story type I’m drawn to write by native design. It follows that just as the hero’s journey reflects the writer’s journey and vice versa, that the deepest and most significant vein of my life is self-knowledge and self-discovery….

    Reply
  5. Dan Erickson

    My plots are twisted because I’m writing about a man who was in a cult as a young boy. There is a combination of mystery, philosophy, psychological thriller, religion, mental illness, and more.

    Reply
  6. Scott LePage

    The Rebellion Against The “One” is my favorite. I find it works best when the hero is right and has to take down the power that has alluded people into believing something false.

    Reply

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