ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Friday, 25 November 2016

The Seven Basic Plots of storytelling...number one...Overcoming the Monster...comparing Jaws and Beowulf.

Hello there!

Image result for happy thanksgiving imagesHappy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate this feast!

But I'm not talking turkey today, I'm sharing stories with you.

I've always been fascinated by the idea that out of all the stories in the world, there are only seven basic plots, or so they say. I recently found an excellent book by Christopher Booker called exactly that.

He maintains these seven basic plots are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage & Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Okay I've seen these called by other names, and the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell combines some, but Booker used interesting comparisons when he compared Steven Spielberg's Jaws with the ancient Beowulf tale...both examples of the Overcoming the Monster plot.

Here is a quick overview of the Jaws' plot (cue the Jaws theme...):

Image result for image jaws

The peace of a little Long Island seaside resort is shattered by the arrival of a monstrous shark of almost supernatural power. For weeks, citizens are frightened and confused by the shark's savage attacks on one victim after another. When it gets too much to bear, the hero, local police chief Brody, sets out with two companions to do battle with the monster. In the climactic fight there is much severing of limbs and threshing about underwater before the shark is slain. The community comes together in jubilation. The threat has been lifted. Life in Amity can begin again.
So, twentieth-century movie goers were gripped by this horror story as it unfolded on the screen. But how many noticed that the story had a lot in common with a smelly bunch of unkempt animal-skinned Saxon warriors gathered around the fire in a wattle-and-daub hall 1200 years earlier, listening to a minstrel chanting an epic poem.


Image result for image beowulf

This ancient poem has survived fire and humans and has been dissected by baffled students the world over. (I had to work my way through much bafflement as I taught this poem to my students.)


Image result for image beowulf
The first part of Beowulf tells of how the peace of a little seaside community of Heorot is shattered by the arrival of Grendel, a monster of almost supernatural power who lives in the depths of a nearby lake. The inhabitants of Heorot are frightened and confused as night after night, Grendel makes his mysterious attacks on the hall where they sleep, seizing one victim after another and tearing them to pieces. Finally, when the threat seems too much to bear, Beowulf sets out to do battle, first with Grendel, then with his even more terrifying monster mother. There is a tremendous climactic fight, with much severing of limbs and threshing about underwater, until both monsters are slain.
Spot the similarities? Pretty obvious.

In terms of bare outline of plot, they tell the same story. Did the author of the modern book, Peter Benchley, steal the Beowulf plot? Hardly. Yet the fact remains that the two stories share a remarkably similar pattern, as do many others down the centuries. Beowulf's plot is basic and we still follow the structure today. It's a prime example of Overcoming the Monster, as is Jaws as so many others.

"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) 

  • Thanks for coming by! I appreciate the time.
  • Where does your genre fit into the seven basic plots?
  • And the winner of the WEP October Halloween/Constellations challenge was Pat Hatt. Today he's over at WEP  dishing out some writing advice. I'm sure you could learn something if you pop on over!
  • And on December 1st, WEP announces the December challenge--


 


31 comments:

  1. Beowulf and Jaws. Who'd have thought! And it's pretty amazing that there are so few plots yet so many unique stories.

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  2. Lynda's right. So many unique stories out there, whether they share the same plot or not. I've heard of the seven plot theory but not in quite the same way as Booker. Interesting post, Denise. Thanks for sharing. Congrats to Pat. Loved his reflection - made me giggle. Have a lovely weekend and thank you for supporting my blog :)

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  3. I'll have to come back for a real study of the question. I'm packing for a trip south. See you later!

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    1. Enjoy Myrtle Beach! Worth the packing!

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    2. Back from MB and I did give this another read. So many types of monsters in the world the supernatural and the human kind. We just elected one as President. I'm not sure I want to see how this story ends, but sadly, we all will.
      I'm writing my own stories about monsters and journeys, quests and rebirths!
      They say that no idea is truly unique.

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  4. Nice analysis, Denise. I've read a few books with different classifications of plots described, but in this one, my stories mostly fit into the categories #3 and #4. For some reason, many of my heroes go on a journey, although their journeys are not always geographical. Sometimes, they are self-exploratory.

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    1. I guess in all our stories there's a journey of sorts for our heroes.

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  5. Archetypes fascinate me. Don't go near the water.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Ha ha. Sharks love the holidays Down Under. (((Chomp)))

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  6. Fascinating comparison, Denise. It's always seemed to me as if every plot involves a hero's journey as well as a mystery (the story question). I think Booker's seven basic plots are more instructional. My long fiction inevitably falls squarely at #7 rebirth, or as I like to call it, redemption.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. I think you're right VR. There has to be a journey, a change from one world to another. Redemption stories are great.

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  7. Yeah, you can always relate something to some other thing, even in an obscure way. How you weave the plot hat makes it less connect he dot haha

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    1. Ah, that plot weaving has me heaving, Pat.

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  8. Wonderful comparison.

    Some of those story types are sooooooo broad. And does comedy really count as a story if it doesn't also contain one of the other elements? Hmm. Maybe I need to read the book.

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    1. It's a great book AS! Comedy could show up in any plot, at least, I hope so.

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  9. Hi Denise - Christopher Booker is well known here ... and this is another book I obviously need to get ... thanks for reminding us and highlighting that my knowledge of literature is poor ... a Christmas wish ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Oh, he is, is he? Good to know. You'd enjoy the book for sure, Hilary. Christmas wishes to you, too. :-)

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  10. Hi Denise,

    Yes, the basic idea is same. But how different people take that idea and grow it in different stories is amazing to see.

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    1. It is amazing how many variations of the same plot exist, much like music. Humans are so creative.

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  11. I suppose the Disaster Crimes Series would fit under tragedy. I think. Lynda's comment does say it all. Writers can sure come up with many different stories with those few basic plots.

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  12. I am always amazed at the fact that stories evolve from the same basic story plots. So many variations out there! Great post. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. It is amazing. Thanks for visiting, Jess.

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  13. The human experience is limited by our nature. Would Tolkien have written his ring trilogy if Plato hadn't written The Republic? And where did Plato come up with the invisibility by ring story? Thanks for the great post, Densie.

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    1. Certainly makes us think, Lee. We all get our inspiration from elsewhere. Look at JK Rowling and Harry Potter--inspired by mythology.

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  14. I need to make a deeper case study into the seven plots, but I find it fascinating how we utilize the same story structures again and again. Being able to identify yours would definitely help in outlining or plotting a book.

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  15. Interesting post, Denise. Thanks for sharing. Amazing how people create stories out of these basic plots.

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