I heard somewhere that in all of literature there are only two stories: someone comes to town; someone leaves town.

A book critic aptly named Christopher Booker posits seven different plots:

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

The New York Times reviewer trashed Booker's book, but still it's an interesting idea. I'm trying to think of novels that don't fit into any of these categories. Any thoughts? What's your favorite category? If I had to choose one, it would probably be rags to riches.

P.S. I apologize for using the word "posit." I don't know what came over me.


  • The Quest!

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 12:21 AM  

  • golly. I'm tryting to understand what he might mean by 'rebirth' as a catergory.....and where do non-tragic love stories fit in? I'm currently thinking that most of the novels I like have elements from a lot of the categories in, but hard to pin them down to one...

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 9:54 AM  

  • Good questions, Crit. I went back to the original article to check on rebirth. The reviewer said that "inner journeys (from naïveté to wisdom, psychological paralysis to emotional liberation) form the armature of Rebirth tales like 'Snow White' and 'A Christmas Carol.'" Hmmmm.

    Maybe non-tragic love stories fit under comedy???

    I think these are very fuzzy categories. I mean, isn't rags to riches a type of rebirth? And don't most quests usually involve a voyage and return, not to mention overcoming monsters?

    I'm inclined to go back to the original coming-to-town or leaving-town theory. It has an elegant simplicity that the seven plots theory lacks. Can you tell I wasn't an English major?

    posted by Blogger Julie on 11:51 AM  

  • I'm with you on that - i like things simple more than complex....and that was the conclusion I'd come to about 're-birth', that the character is somehow radically different at the end. I do prefer the 'two stories' theory much more! Now, how do we classify songs, if we're reducing things so radically!

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 9:58 AM  

  • I had meant to respond to mrsd's post, too. Mrsd, for some reason I was surprised you didn't say rebirth. I guess in my mind I connect you with Anne of Green Gables, which I think you've mentioned a couple times here. And Anne is definitely a rebirth...unless she's a Someone Comes To Town!

    Songs--that's a hard one. I've never even been able to come up with criteria for what makes a song good. Every time I do, I immediately think of a bunch of exceptions. The only category I can think of for music is What I Like and What I Don't Like. I have to think about this some more.

    Unless it's a song that tells a story, in which case it's Someone Comes To Town, or -- heh heh!

    posted by Blogger Julie on 6:58 PM  

  • Hmm, that statement has always bothered me a bit, as well as the line "there’s nothing you can write than hasn't been written" (or something to that effect) by the Beatles. I can't figure out whether that's a comfort or a defeat. As a fledging writer it sounds an awful lot like a defeat to me.

    But my favorite of those plots would have to be comedy. The world is always in need of some comic relief. And of the coming and going, 'someone leaves town' is my favorite.

    Really interesting post!


    posted by Blogger Willow on 3:18 PM  

  • it would really be a good idea to read christopher booker's brilliant book rather than guessing what he might be on about . . . it's beautifully clear, and not at all simplistic, and speaks very profoundly of the human condition. although he's immensely well read, in the end it's his insights about how we constuct our lives around fictionality that matters most.

    posted by Anonymous deirdre on 4:40 PM  

  • Is Snow White really considered a rebirth?

    I've always considered 'rebirth' in this sense to have the individual profoundly changed by the events of the story, usually for the better. Eyes opened to a whole new perception of reality.

    As far as I can tell, Snow White naively got poisoned, then she gets rescued and the wicked queen gets punished for her sins. More of a morality play really (like most happily ever after fairy tales). I don't remember any personal growth being achieved by any of the characters.

    posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 4:04 AM  

  • non-tragic love stories could be classified as any of these depending on what type of love story it is. Overcoming the monster is really "conflict and triumph" of which there are 6 types: man v. self (which falls under rebirth), v. man, v. society (such as wurthering heights), v. nature (usually voyage and return types), v supernatural (the archetypal v monster or god), v technology (which, other than sci-fi, usually deals with anome and the alienating effects of progress). MOST non-tragic love stories will fall under rebirth, man v society, or comedy. Romance novels (which differ greatly from love stories) are usually in the form of "the quest" as the hero seduces the heroine and then bangs the daylights out of her for like 60 pages.

    posted by Blogger Nathan on 11:26 PM  

  • I'm curious, has anyone worked out the beats to the Overcoming the Monster plotline? I was wondering how it breaks down into the three act structure.

    posted by Blogger Travis on 4:27 PM