According to Christopher Booker, There Are Only Seven Basic Plots That Stories Can Tell.
Have you ever gone to a movie and thought halfway through the story seemed kind of familiar? Or started reading a book and felt like you had read it before?
Well, maybe that’s because we keep telling the same stories again and again.
From biblical parables to mythological heroes, a lot of stories seem to have the same elements.
In fact, according to the book "The Seven Basic Plots," by Christopher Booker, every story known to man can be boiled down to SEVEN storylines.
While the characters and settings and details may change, the basic succession of plot points fall into one of seven categories.
Here’s the list. Let’s see what you think.
Plot #1: Overcoming the Monster
In this plot, the hero overcomes an overwhelming antagonist of some kind.
This antagonist can take many different forms, from an evil creature (like Michael Myers in the Halloween movies, or the monsters in Frankenstein, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, etc.) to a dangerous weapon (the death star in Star Wars, or the Nazi anti-ship weapons in The Guns of Navarone).
Overcoming the Monster also includes foiling an evil plot of some kind—so you can add the Harry Potter movies to the list, along with all of the Die Hard movies, and anything involving James Bond.
So how does this plot translate to business video?
Well, imagine the antagonist is inefficiency, or bad morale, or something outside of the business like hunger, or homelessness. Could you tell a story about fighting one of those things?
Plot #2: Rags to Riches
In a Rags to Riches story, the protagonist starts out penniless, but through hard work and determination, and maybe a little luck, manages to acquire power and wealth.
In most cases, they end up with a mate to share it all with as well.
In most versions of this story, the protagonist loses everything, then manages to gain it all back—usually growing as a person in the process.
Classic examples include Cinderella, The Prince and the Pauper, Aladdin, and David Copperfield.
Modern twists include The Beverly Hillbillies (where down-home values and common sense are more important than wealth) and Brewster's Millions (where the hero has to spend a fortune in order to inherit one).
In a business video, this could literally be the story of how a successful business was built. The better approach, however, is about other forms of riches—the customers we've served, the charities we've contributed to, the employee relationships we've formed along the way.
Plot #3: The Quest
In the third of the Basic Plots, the protagonist assembles a team of brave companions, and they all set off on a great adventure, facing threats and temptations along the way.
Usually in Quest stories, the heroes are searching for a valuable object. In Jason and the Argonauts, it was a magical golden fleece. In the King Arthur legend, it was the Holy Grail.
Other examples include The Odyssey, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and Apocalypse Now. In an interesting twist, Bilbo Baggins already has the ring in The Lord of the Rings. His purpose is to destroy it.
A business video using this plot probably won't include the Holy Grail or fighting armies of orcs. But it can be about your company's journey—maybe you're searching for a CEO, or developing a new product, or perfecting some new manufacturing technique.
Plot #4: Voyage and Return
The fourth Basic Plot is called "Voyage and Return."
In this storyline, the protagonist travels to a strange land, experiences wonders and adventures, and returns home.
It isn't about finding a valuable object—the journey itself is the story. It's about the experience.
Examples here include Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine."
In a business video, this could be about traveling to another country, or touring a manufacturing facility. But don't just include the experience—what did you learn along the way? How did the experience improve your products or service?
Plot #5: Comedy
In a classical sense, a "Comedy" isn't just about humor. It's a dramatic work where the central character triumphs over adverse circumstances, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.
One of my favorite examples here is My Cousin Vinny. Joe Pesci plays an attorney wannabe from New Jersey who ends up saving a nephew charged with murder in the deep South.
Shakespeare's comedies include Much Ado About Nothing, Twelth Night, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Other examples include pretty much any romantic comedy—Bridget Jones Diary, Love Actually, Music and Lyrics, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
So how does this translate to business video? Think about ways you and your business might overcome adversity. Maybe the wrong part was delivered, or the wrong food order, and you still managed to deliver for your customers.
Plot #6: Tragedy
In the sixth of the Basic Plots, the protagonist has a character flaw or makes a mistake of some kind, which ends up ultimately causing their demise, or some other tragic ending.
Classic examples here include MacBeth, Julius Caesar, and Romeo & Juliet.
Other examples include The Untouchables (the story of Chicago mob boss Al Capone), Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger.
As for business videos, I doubt many examples would incorporate a tragic story, but it is possible. For example, a security company manages to prevent a tragic occurrence, or a Ring Doorbell scares away the bad guys.
Plot #7: Rebirth
The last of the Basic Plots is "Rebirth." In these types of stories, the main character becomes a better person. This usually involves a clarifying moment or event that causes them to learn the error of their ways.
My favorite example here is A Christmas Carol—Dickens' wonderful story of a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge. Other examples include Groundhog Day, The Secret Garden, and Beauty and the Beast.
So how does this work in a business video? It can be very effective—a "Rebirth" story is a great way to announce change. Let's say you transform your pushy sales force with a new "no haggle" sales policy. That would make a great "Rebirth" story.
Or maybe your company dramatically improves its customer service, or you upgrade to better quality parts, or improve the ingredients in your pizza recipe. These are all "Rebirth" stories waiting to happen.
So those are the stories—which would work best to promote your business? of course, the details will make a difference. There may be only seven basic plots, but there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of variations.
Give us a call—I'd love to talk about your business.