Seven Stories

Seven Stories


Author Christopher Booker had always heard the popular notion that there are really just a handful of stories told in various forms throughout human history.

As an example, he notes that the 1975 movie Jaws is really the same story as Beowulf, an epic poem penned somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries. Both tales are about a small seaside town plagued by a monster who is eventually vanquished by a hero.

Seven Archetypes

While conducting research on an unrelated subject, Booker began to notice patterns among the stories he encountered-in everything from Shakespeare to Greek mythology to 1960s French films. Thirty-four years and hundreds of stories later, Booker completed The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories, a book that aims to fit all stories ever told into one of just seven basic archetypes.

Here they are in all their sparse glory, each followed by a few examples:
  1. Overcoming the Monster: Beowulf, Jaws, Star Wars
  2. Rags to Riches: Cinderella, My Fair Lady, Little Orphan Annie
  3. Voyage and Return: The Odyssey, Finding Nemo, Alice in Wonderland
  4. Comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Confederacy of Dunces, Bossypants
  5. Tragedy: Hamlet, JFK, Braveheart
  6. Rebirth: Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Phoenix myth, V for Vendetta, A Christmas Carol

Hidden, Universal Language

According to Booker, these same seven stories span geography and time as well as cultures that couldn’t possibly have been familiar with each other’s stories. Booker describes these plots as a gateway to discovering a “hidden, universal language.” They are evidence that something deep in the human psyche fixates on and arranges information around a few basic structures. Somehow our brains are hard-wired for these particular stories.

Of course not all stories fit cleanly and mechanically into these seven categories. But itís a powerful observation in connectivity that somehow human beings throughout time and space have gravitated to such a small number of tales.

We should also note that some stories contain several of these archetypes. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series features all seven. Tolkien was, among other things, an English professor and literary geek who would have been familiar with a broad range of tales. The popularity of his books and the subsequent movies might not be a coincidence but rather a testament to the universality of these seven structures.

Guide Your Brand Story

What does all of this tell us about marketing? In a way it simplifies your storytelling. Here they are, the seven plotlines that unite humanity. These stories connect people and move people.

On the other hand, you still need to be original and compelling in a fresh and inspiring way.

Examining archetypes just might help you tap into that “hidden, universal language” that moves your base to action.

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