It’s said there are only 7 true stories in the world. Every story you’ve ever heard is just a version of one of them.
Put simply the 7 categories of story are; Beating the Baddie, From Rags to Riches, The Long Road Home, The Mission, The Misunderstanding, The Tragedy, and Rebirth.
Think of your own examples as you read through the categories;
1.Beating the Baddie.
You’ve seen this many times, it’s a Hollywood staple. The main character sets out to defeat a powerful baddie or evil force that is threatening his or her home. The journey may be bumpy, the odds are often stacked against the hero, but their courage and resourcefulness will help them overcome the threat. Good always wins in the end. (Star Wars, Avatar, Harry Potter, Marvels – The Avengers, Bond films)
- Talking about succeeding despite the odds being stacked against you
- Discussing the life lessons that obstacles/threats can teach you
- Demonstrating how you, your team or business can became stronger through adversity
2. Rags to Riches
A hero from poor or humble beginnings gains the thing that he or she wants – money, power, a partner – before losing it and having to fight to get it back again. The main character usually struggles coming to terms with their success – before growing personally and finally regaining what they desire. (Cinderella, Great Expectations, The Wolf of Wall Street)
- Talking about the importance of owning up to your mistakes
- Discussing the benefits of taking risks and accepting vulnerabilities
- Showing the character’s journey to present-day success
3. The long road home
A usually quirky main character travels to an unfamiliar place, meeting new characters and overcoming a series of trials, all the while trying to get home. Their new friendships and newfound wisdom allow them to find their way back again. This plot is common in children’s literature because it often involves the main character discovering a magical land to explore. (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver’s Travels)
- Talking about the benefits of opening up to new experiences and travel
- Showing what your protagonist learned on the journey
- Demonstrating the power of friendship
4. The Mission. Here the hunky hero sets out in search of a specific prize, overcoming a series of challenges and temptations. They may have flaws which have held them back in the past which they will need to overcome to succeed. He or she is usually accompanied by a group of comrades with complementary skills that support him or her along the way. (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief, any sport related film).
- Talking about the importance of sticking to your convictions
- Showing how we grow emotionally to be able to succeed
- Demonstrating the power of teamwork
Have you noticed how most comedies follow a set pattern? A light-hearted story which centers on some confusion (often involving misunderstandings or mistaken identities) leading to conflict before a happy conclusion and celebrations.Sometimes the comedy will focus on a hero and a heroine who are destined to be together – but outside forces keep driving them apart. In the end the confusion is cleared up and everyone resumes their true identity. (Pride and Prejudice, Freaky Friday, The Proposal).
- Talking about difficulties in communication and relationships – romantic, social or business
- Showing ways to negotiate around difficult situations
- Demonstrating how people can accommodate and support each other
The Tragedy. The main character is essentially good but flawed and frustrated with their life. They face temptation and are compelled to break the rules of their society, setting in motion a series of events that lead to their downfall or death.Sometimes the character comes to regret his choices towards the end of the story, but often it is too late and they die or are ruined anyway. The downfall of this character is alternately presented as a positive or negative event.(Dorian Gray, Scarface, Sweeney Todd).
- Using the principle character to represent and explain a wider problem in society
- Contrasting your own values and principles with theirs
- Demonstrating how not to do things and what we can learn from their mistakes
Rebirth. The main character is a baddie or unpleasant person who is shown the error of their ways and redeems themself over the course of the story. Usually it takes a redemption figure – usually in the form of a child or the main character’s love interest – to help the villain make this transition. Redemption figures and their job is to reveal how warped the villain’s worldview is and to show them love. (Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Despicable Me).
- Talking about an enlightening experience
- Showing the importance of having support from loved ones
- Demonstrating that everyone has the capacity to change for the better
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Writing what happened – in order. The big trap for first-time writers is that they want to tell what happened in order. But chronology is not meaning and is usually boring. Your story should follow an arc with points of impact, not of chronology.
- Coincidental meetings and discoveries. Often used to turn the story in a different direction but are just unbelievable to the viewer.
- Overuse of emotion – often happens in dramas. It’s a fine line between having the characters react with appropriate emotion to important events and having them go overboard.
- Write real dialogue – people don’t speak the written word. Listen to the conversations around you to make sure your characters sound like real people.
- The Ending You Didn’t See Coming. The idea here is to save some secret, or give us some surprise, at the end that’s so astonishing that we can never see it coming. This is almost always bad storytelling. The death of a main character, for instance, is only justified if it’s prepared for and it’s part of the arc of the story. A skillful storyteller will build tension and offer interest through out the piece, not through in a random finale.
Before you do the task – watch this:
Task: Writing a story synopsis
- Which one of the 7 categories does your story fit? Knowing this will help you with your research and story development. Research by watching/reading/listening to similar story types to you own. Think about the variations you see/hear and consider what makes particular stories compelling and others not.
- Make a list of all the things you think make a bad story.
- Now write your story synopsis (a summary of your story not a description of every twist and turn). Avoid all those things you’ve put on your bad story list. Also be careful your work doesn’t become a hackneyed version of a familiar story that’s everyone already knows. You don’t want to be a cliché!
- Get feedback on it from family, friends, tutors, anyone! This will really help you know your story development.
And as Andrew Stanton (video below) says MAKE US CARE!…
Library: The 7 Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories; Christopher Booker
Library: Stephen King – On Writing
Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story
and other Writing and Storytelling videos on TED