Sometime after attending a screenplay writing workshop during the late nineties, I bought the book Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond G. Frensham. And somewhere in the first part of that book, it mentioned about the eight basic stories. It is said that there are only eight stories in the world in which other stories — be it film, TV, books, and even games — were based upon. It listed down the eight as:
Based on the Greek mythology, the plot depicts a flawless hero only to be beaten by his own fatal flaw or weakness. It shows that despite the perfect character, there will be something that could go wrong which could cause its own downfall. Examples: Samson and Delilah, Superman. This flaw could also be used in crime drama wherein the flaw belongs to the villain. Examples: CSI, Murder She Wrote
Based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella, the plot depicts a good hero that could never be put down. An innocent and optimistic protagonist despite the challenges around him. Examples: Forrest Gump, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Mr. Bean
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, who started as someone common, unrecognized, and unfortunate, finds true happiness and fulfillment in the end after many ups and downs. Examples: Pretty Woman, Rocky, Kung Fu Panda
Based on the Greek mythology of the enchantress, the plot depicts a cunning character who seduces a naive character into a trap. It could also depict the chase, the innocent and the victim, or the spider and the fly type of stories. Examples: Othello, 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: The Devil’s Advocate, Bedazzled
Based on the Greek mythology, the plot depicts a protagonist who has everything and everything is taken away at an instant forever. Examples: Dr. Zhivago, Rain Man
- ROMEO AND JULIET
Based on Shakespeare’s play, the plot depicts the tragic love story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again formula. Examples: West Side Story, When Harry Met Sally
Based on an Arthurian story, the plot depicts the typical love triangle. Examples: Fatal Attraction, The Graduate, The Wedding Planner
There are other versions of this list and one of them is a 2004 book from Christopher Booker entitled The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. In this book, the author actually discussed nine archetypal plots, but only approves of the first seven. However, three of those nine are considered genres (comedy, tragedy, and mystery) .
I’ve had told my students about these eight basic stories and I believe that it is good for writers to be familiar with these. A good mix and match would do the trick in coming up with a new story to tell.
Do you agree with this list? Let me know by writing your comment below.