Plots and stories

It occurred to me that although I’ve made reference in the blog title to reading and writing, I’ve really only posted about things I’ve been reading so far. I thought it was about time for a writing related post.

One of the things I always look at when I read something is the type of plot a book has. We’re all aware of similarities in plot; such similarities are the mainstay of genre fiction. For example a detective story has to follow a very fixed formula for it to be a detective story, but it may come in several flavours – police procedural etc.

Christopher Booker came up with a theory that there are only seven basic plotlines, link to the book. others have said no, there are eight, or twelve or, one I saw recently, thirty eight. Whether or not one subscribes to this, it is undeniable that the similarities are there. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all novels are the same, although some are more similar than others as Kaavya Viswanathan found to her cost recently.

I read Booker’s theory last year, and was impressed with the amount of research that had gone into it. The plots he identified are, Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and lastly, Rebirth. Of these, he identifies comedy as the only one that has evolved during the historical period, from the Greek comedies of Aristophanes et al. It is worth noting that of these plots, only tragedy does not have a happy ending.

Since reading it, I’ve amused myself by looking at books I like and trying to identify the basic plot. For example, most of my great grandmother’s books are romances and as such are either rags to riches stories or comedies. Sometimes it’s easy, at other times less so, because much of modern literary fiction doesn’t follow the pattern. I’ve even identified the plot I’m happiest writing which, as it turns out, is the one I enjoy reading the most.


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