Applying the Seven Basic ...


By Chris Owen, UK Director


After working on the book for over 34 years (we have people in this office who haven’t been alive this long), Christopher Booker published Seven Basic Plots in 2004. It’s a seminal piece of work; taking a psychological and analytical approach to literature, it identified seven core themes to which any piece of storytelling can be traced back. Everything and anything can be boiled down to one of the seven plots:

  • Overcoming the Monster: The protagonist is faced with an evil force which threatens them or their home which needs to be overcome — e.g., Star Wars. Any of.
  • Rags to Riches: The protagonist, lacking in one aspect (be it money, power, family, for example), acquires it, loses it, and regains it, becoming a better person as a result – Trading Places.
Eddie Murphy and Dan Akyroyd in Trading Places
  • The Quest: A protagonist — alone or accompanied — sets out to find an important treasure, or reach an important destination; overcoming temptations, threats, and challenges along their way to succeeding — Lord of the Rings.
  • The Voyage and Return: Having travelled to a strange and (usually) distant land — be it physical, spiritual, metaphorical — the protagonist returns wiser and with more experience — The Hobbit’s Journey.
  • Comedy: Predominantly based around triumph over adversity, this is a light, humorous story with a happy and cheerful ending. Often includes confusion, adding to the adversity — pretty much anything by Richard Curtis.
  • Tragedy: Centred around the downfall of the protagonist (who is rarely a villain), the tragedy is based on an intrinsic character or personality flaw, which is inescapably linked to the undoing of a fundamentally good individual — Obvs.
  • Rebirth: The protagonist is faced with an event which makes them face often intrinsic and self-defeating ways, forcing them to overcome the event and change their ways, becoming a better individual as a result — A Christmas Carol.


Plots Beyond Fiction

Beyond literature, film, and drama, these plots can be applied to anything where a narrative is involved — and in the comms industry, it can provide a foundation to defining a brand, planning a long-term campaign, and bringing any story to life along the way.

It’s not an essential for every single piece of work, but where suitable, we must consider how a client or brand might be perceived externally (as well as internally) and start to map which narrative they might need to embark upon, developing the story arc accordingly.

Equally, when bringing a campaign to life, we might want to consider how this will sit within a market, sector or product shelf. Where do we need to take this client?


In further blogs we’ll look at each of the plots in turn, and consider brands and campaigns which epitomise these.

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