The 7 Basic Plots of Stories — Do You Have a Favorite?

One of my favorite things in the world is Slightly Foxed: the Real Reader’s Quarterly. It’s a quarterly magazine, published in London, that features short essays written by people about books they love.

Often these books are out of print, and often they’re eccentric choices — but I’ve found so many great books from Slightly Foxed. (The name “Slightly Foxed” refers to a term used to describe the age-related spots and browning that appears on old paper.)

If you’re a serious reader, it’s great to have a reliable source of recommendations, especially for books that were published years ago. It’s easy to find out what’s being published now, but what about a great book that came out forty years ago?

That’s one of the reasons I started my own book club — there are so many books that I love, and I wanted a way to share those suggestions with other people looking for great reading ideas. Want to know when I have a list of book suggestions? Sign up here.

In the Winter 2014 issue of Slightly Foxed, which I happened to pick up again yesterday, for some reason mysterious even to myself, there’s an essay by Richard Platt about Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.

According to Booker, the seven basic plots are:

  1. Overcoming the monster (Beowolf, Jaws)
  2. Rags to Riches (Aladdin, Oliver Twist)
  3. The Quest (Odyssey, Watership Down)
  4. Comedy (Aristophanes, The Marx Brothers)
  5. Tragedy (Oedipus, Macbeth)
  6. Rebirth (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol)
  7. Voyage and Return (Peter Rabbit, Brideshead Revisited)

Booker says that a few works even combine all seven basic plots, and the one example he gives is…can you guess?

He says: The Lord of the Rings.

I would add: Harry Potter!

It’s fun to think about what plot or plots a particular story embodies.

Do you have a favorite plot? I love them all.

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