I recently got a book from the library called The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker. It’s about two inches thick, around 700 pages, and is a study of seven basic plot-lines that can be found in stories throughout history and across the world, and an examination of why humans tell stories. I’m really excited about it, if I ever manage to read through it before I run out of renewals.
I’m currently on Chapter 2 (but I read the Introduction And Historical Notes first) and I’ve already had the chance to apply something I’ve learned, which is extremely satisfying. The first plot the author takes apart is called the “Overcoming the Monster” story line, which has five distinct stages.
In the first stage, the hero first becomes aware of a threat, something evil, cruel and monstrous. He sets out to confront it, leading into the second stage.
In the second stage, the hero first comes in contact with the monster. Maybe there is a slight skirmish, which is successful. The hero seems invincible and danger still seems faraway.
By the third stage, the strength of the monster begins to be felt and people start getting worried. This is not going to be easy. Someone is going to get hurt. Maybe it’s impossible.
In the fourth stage, the task of overcoming the monster is clearly impossible. The hero has fallen into it’s clutches. All seems lost.
But the monster has a fatal flaw. Something, often something magical, or something seemingly small and insignificant, something unexpected, can bring it down. And it is this which saves the hero at the last moment. There is a dramatic reversal and the hero wins, often gaining fame, wealth and glory in the process.
Shortly after I read this chapter, my family and I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was very fun. I could see the five stages of the Overcoming The Monster storyline as the plot unfolded.
They’re not blatantly obvious, because each story is different, but they’re there.
I’m not going to go into it, because I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t seen the movie. But maybe, if you like doing that sort of thing, you’ll enjoy finding the five stages for yourself.