I don’t want to categorise, or use labels really I don’t, because we’re all so different and free and yada yada yada…But I’m sorry, denial won’t stop you from writing about at least one of the seven basic plots in you’re writing career.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that we’re all robots writing the same thing over and over again, but yeah, that’s sort of what I’m saying. Of course that exploration of a quest to find a spell or become a hero will always be different, because we’re individuals, we have varied experiences, and that pretty much wipes the slate clean. There is always room for telling a familiar story in a NEW way, ALWAYS.
Sticking with the picture book theme this month, I decided to take a handful of my favourite ones, to show how the author has used at least one of these identifiable plots to maximum effect. Naturally this type of book is not able to explore all of the basic meta-plot stages of anticipation, dream, frustration, nightmare and resolution for obvious reasons. But you will be able to see how these basic plot[s] can be used as the foundation for different books, regardless if they have pictures or not.
‘Dear Zoo’ by Rod Campbell, is an all time favourite of mine. Yes, this is as monosyllabic as it gets, but there is still a lot of plot for a 2 year old to get their gums stuck into, believe me. For start there’s A QUEST to find out what animals are hiding beneath those flaps.
‘Sleeping beauty’ the brothers Grimm, see’s the Rebirth of a girl who is made to fall into a deep sleep, by the villainess Maleficent. However, this lucky young lady has a prince all ready to pucker up, and bring her back to the land of the living.
I know, I know THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST doesn’t have her own picture book, but TRAGEDY stories are a bit thin on the ground when it comes to this target age group. So I’ve used a sub plot within this quest story to show what I mean. This evil cackling witch is destroyed by the protagonist of the wizard of Oz , young Dorothy with just a bucket of water!
It’s not an horrific Greek tragedy, nor is it Shakespeare’s Macbeth but it essentially tells you what a Tragedy plot looks like. GREED, SELFISHNESS, REVENGE AND DEATH at the hands of the hero of the book.
‘Goldilocks and the three bears’ by Robert Southey. About a young girl who gets lost in the woods, stumbles on a house where she finds food, and a nice comfy bed. A threat is posed when the owners who just so happen to be bears come home. It may be light years away from Gone with the wind, but this story still explores the idea of VOYAGE AND RETURN.
‘Big eyes scary voice’ by Edel Wignell, Is about hearing scary sounds, and catching a glimpse of something that could go bump in the ever approaching night. This book holds kids attention with rich words and spooky theme. The characters set about OVERCOMING THE MONSTER, in this case it’s the dark.
‘Cinderella’ a well known tale from the brothers Grimm, of a poor hard done by girl, who finds a fairy grandmother, some glass slippers- which are more suited to accident at work claimants- and a very handsome prince to make all her dreams come true. This is the perfect RAG TO RICHES story, transforming Cinders into the perfect princess.
‘Frozen’ the screenplay of which was written by Jennifer Lee, is a tough one, because it kind of has it all, transformation, voyage and return, rebirth! But the one I want to concentrate on is the COMEDY plot, the young love interest between Elsa, Hans and Kristoff is playing with more of a ‘grown up’ theme, exploring requited and unrequited love in a fun, light hearted way. That will they, wont they story pulls us in every time. I’m sorry to say, but we’re absolute suckers for it.
That’s it, all seven basic plots, from Quest, Voyage and return, Comedy, Tragedy, Rags to riches, Rebirth, and overcoming a monster. Which plot[s] make an appearance in your story?
Click on the link, if you’d like to read more about The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker.