I’ve mentioned this before, I attended a screenplay writing workshop in 1999. A few months or a year after, I bought a book
Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond G. Frensham. Unfortunately, someone borrowed the book and never returned it to me.
Anyway, I remember in the first part of that book it mentioned about the eight basic stories. Frensham said that there are only eight stories in the world in which other plots — be it film, TV, books, and even games — were based upon.
When I first read about it, I said, “What?!” And then, I thought it made sense because I kept on seeing films and TV shows that have similar plot lines.
In this book, Frensham listed down the eight stories as follows:
One of the stories in Greek mythology, the plot depicts Achilles as a strong hero but with a flaw which is also the cause of his own downfall. Thus, the phrase “Achilles’ heel” connotes a weak spot. This only proves that nobody’s perfect and almighty. There will always be something that could go wrong which leads to a failure or even death. Examples of this story include Superman (the kryptonite), Samson and Delilah (when his hair was cut), and the Titanic (they said it was unsinkable).
The character is based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella, Candide, ou l’Optimisme. The plot depicts Candide as a good and innocent hero that could never be put down. His optimism kept him rising up despite the challenges around him. Examples of this plot include Forrest Gump, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Mr. Bean.
Who doesn’t know the Cinderella story? Based on an old folk tale, the plot depicts a persecuted heroine and the typical rags-to-riches or dream-come-true story. The protagonist started as someone common, unrecognized, and unfortunate, finds true happiness, fulfillment, or reward in the end after many ups and downs. Examples of this kind of plot include Pretty Woman and Rocky.
In Greek mythology, Circe is an enchantress who uses her knowledge of potions and her magic to transform her enemies into animals. The plot depicts a cunning character who seduces a naive character into a trap as a form of revenge. This type of plot could either show the chase, the innocent and the victim, the spider and the fly, or the hunter and the hunted scenarios. Examples of this plot include Othello and Dangerous Liaisons.
Faust is the protagonist of a classic German tale who made a pact with the devil in exchange of unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The plot depicts a theme of the debt that must be paid when fate finally catches up with the protagonist. Examples of this kind of plot include The Devil’s Advocate and Bedazzled.
Orpheus is a poet and musician in Greek myths and legends. When his wife Eurydice died, he grieved and went to the underworld. His music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone that his wish was granted with one condition. Orpheus and Eurydice should walk back to the upper world with Orpheus going ahead of Eurydice. He should not look back until both of them reach the upper world. However, when Orpheus reached the surface he looked back and saw Eurydice fade away. The plot depicts a protagonist who has everything and everything is taken away at an instant forever. Examples of this story include Dr. Zhivago and Rain Man.
ROMEO AND JULIET
Based on Shakespeare’s play of the same title, the plot depicts the tragic love story. It follows a formula: boy meets girl, both belong from opposing sides, boy loses girl, then boy finds girl again. Examples of this plot include West Side Story and When Harry Met Sally.
Based on an Arthurian story, the plot depicts the typical love triangle. Tristan was one of the Knights of the Round Table and was assigned to fetch Isolde whom was about to marry Mark, the King of Cornwall. Examples of this kind of plot include Fatal Attraction, The Graduate, and The Wedding Planner.
In 2004, a book from Christopher Booker entitled The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories discussed nine archetypal plots, but only approves of the first seven. However, three of those nine are considered genres (comedy, tragedy, and mystery) and not plots.
I believe that it is good for writers to be familiar with these basic stories. A good mix and match would do the trick in coming up with a new story to tell because come to think of it, even if these were already told, there are still unique ways on how to tell them.
Do you agree with this list?
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