The BS of Seven Basic Plots

It is a maxim of the writing world these days; there are only seven stories the world over, forever and ever amen. Therefore anything you write will in essence be a rehash of one of these seven stories. Sorry, no hope to be original. Your only chance is to rehash better than others have rehashed.

Unless of course it is 12 basic plots. But still, that’s it. You have nothing new to say. Okay, maybe it is 36 basic plots…

Like all bullshit, this “Only X Number of Original Plots” platitude shifts and slips around depending on who is saying it. Or stepping in it as the case may be.

There are even “writers”, who fancy themselves some kind of divinely appointed guardians of this tired trope. Pick any plot in the universe and before you can finish your sentence they will jump in with something like,

“No, but the protagonist does do this and this and this, and you have to consider the setting to be thus and so. Ergo, it would qualify as plot number four in the end.”

And that sort of conversation qualifies as a waste of time.

Or, as I said at the start, it qualifies as bullshit. Not seven basic types of bullshit, but one unified concept of uselessness. Especially to writers.

For reasons I have yet to understand, many worship at the shoddy altar of this obtuse literary pronouncement, and it’s time people free their creativity from the bondage of same.

Now I realize this claim is sometimes used with the intent to actually inspire creativity. As a sort of release from the responsibility of creating something that is 100% new in all aspects. It is offered as a sedative to those new writers, (or experienced ones) who are having a breakdown trying to think of something “new”.

“Relax. Don’t pressure yourself to be so original. Every story has already been written. Just write your version in a memorable way that people will want to read and buy.”

Such people get half-credit for at least trying to free the minds of writers. Yet it still puts an unnecessary clamp on the imagination.

Depending on which source you use, one of these almighty seven basic story archetypes is “Man vs. Man.”  Let’s stop and think about just how broad that is.

Someone vs. Someone Else. There are what, thousands upon thousands of stories out there with this description? Put some mental effort into it and it becomes clear that  this label is the only thing they truly have in common, yet they are considered the “same story with different names.” Good Night and Good Luck and V for Vendetta are basically the same old story with the names and setting changed.

If you want to zoom out so far as to not even be constructive, I suppose they are the same story. In both, at one point a human being stands in opposition to another human being. In the end, one of them wins, and one of them does not. Call the copyright police.

Why stop there, though? Let’s zoom out even further and be even more obtuse about this. I am going to declare that only two stories have ever been told in history. Are you ready? Here they are:

1) Somebody gets something that they want.

2) Somebody does not get something that they want.

Could not Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man. vs God, and all of the other cogs in this old wheel of seven original plots fall into both of those? Hell, you could probably combine even those two and just say “characters do stuff“, is the one and only plot of any story ever told, or any story yet to be told.

All stories have similar components, just as the lives of all humans have similar components. Everyone you meet or will ever meet will have been born the same way, and will some day die. In between they will need food, water, and shelter. Does this mean in the end you have really only ever met one person? Introvert that I am even I am not willing to declare every single person no more than a different size of the same style shoe. And I know you are not wiling to do so either. That is because you have sense, and you can apply that sense just as easily to the originality of stories you read and stories you write.

Sure, people rip off other stories all of the time, and it sucks. Especially when it is only being done for money. But let that be what it is-a lack of originality. Let originality, your originality be what it is as well. Though they of course will share some parts with the stories of  fellow human beings living in this world, the tales you tell are your own if you want them to be. They are not merely a sub-sub-sub-genre of this nebulous seven plots classification system posted in the heavens.  Don’t let snobby literary parlor games tell you otherwise.

Of course stories often share elements with other stories. They share elements with being human. We recognize ourselves in our stories. If we didn’t, there’d be no stories to begin with.

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    1. Fan Fiction « Ty Unglebower

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