This post is part of our series exploring Christopher Booker’s theory of plot types in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Write StoriesSee type 12345, and 6, and 7.

I have a confession to make: I’m kind of into Doctor Who. In general, sci-fi is not my thing, and if there are aliens involved, it is even less my thing, yet here we are. I think it’s the characters and their arcs that make me keep watching (that, and the fact that David Tennant is probably the most adorable man on the face of the planet). The series got its start in the 1960s, and is currently on its 11th Doctor. How does that work, you ask? Briefly, the Doctor is an alien who can regenerate himself when he’s close to dying. He’ll take on a new appearance and personality, but have the same memories. Neat way for the series to live on forever, eh?

This regeneration, while not exactly its own plot, brings me to the next type of plot of Booker’s seven: Rebirth.

Rebirth

Photo by Nasa’s Earth Observatory

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Rebirth stories generally focus on villain protagonists who redeem themselves over the course of the story, after spiraling deeper into villainy and meeting a redemption figure. Redemption figures usually come in the form of a child or the protagonist’s other half, and they serve to remind the villain-hero what compassion or love feels like. They also help the villain-hero see what the world alignment is actually like, instead of the warped perception that the protagonist has that has given them the proclivity towards villainy.

The Structure of the Rebirth Plot Type

Unlike the other six plot types, Booker does not give a list of stages for stories of Rebirth. Instead he provides a basic sequence (listed here):

  1. A young hero or heroine falls under the shadow of the dark power.
  2. For a while, all may seem to go reasonably well. The threat may even seem to have receded.
  3. Eventually the threat returns in full force, until the hero/heroine is seen imprisoned in the state of living death.
  4. This continues for a long time, when it seems like the dark power has completely triumphed.
  5. But finally comes the miraculous redemption, either by the hero (if the imprisoned figure is the heroine), or by a young woman or child (if the imprisoned figure is the hero).

A Christmas Carol is probably the best-known example of a Rebirth story, with Scrooge as the villain-hero, and the three ghosts as redemption figures. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is another example (a lot of holiday stories, it seems, fall under this umbrella). Basically, most stories where the hero is morally ambiguous and does an about-face by the end of the story are Rebirth plots.

What is your favorite rebirth story?

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PRACTICE

Write a Rebirth arc for a classic villain in literature or film for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments, and leave some encouragement for your fellow writers.

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