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Narrative Types

May 22, 2008

I’m probably the last person in the world to have seen this particular image:

I think it’s a great way for English (Literature) teachers to introduce the fact that many stories share the same basic structure and that even just a few changes can give the impression of a completely different tale. Of course, the real skill of an author comes from characterisation and description and the myriad other aspects that typify good writing… The basic plot is not as important as the skill used to create the final artefact.

What this also reminded me of was that I was once told that there are only 7 fundamental stories. Everything written is merely a variation of something that’s gone before:

…and after that, my mind goes blank. Am I mis-remembering this in my old age? Or can you help me identify the seven fundamental stories from which everything else is derived? Please post any ideas and/or links below and put me out of my misery…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2008 7:40 pm

    Hi Neil

    You’re not the last person to see that! I’ve never seen it before, but can see it being a valuable resource for the classroom.

    Does Apocalypse Now reworking Heart of Darkness count or is that too obvious?

  2. May 26, 2008 3:20 pm

    @Andy: That is a cracker… but I’m not sure how I’d get on using Apocalypse Now in the classroom, no matter how much I love the smell of napalm in the morning (Which is more likely to be soggy kids on a wet winter’s morning anyway)!

    @John: Thanks for the links! The Google answer has lots to take and digest and use. I think the most frustrating link I found was to the Seven Stories website… it’s a great website, but it doesn’t actually say what it thinks are the seven stories!

  3. elpollo permalink
    June 4, 2008 4:23 pm

    wow, that is pretty strong. Thanks for bringing it up.

  4. June 17, 2008 6:19 pm

    After discussions with a pupil, the crux of this post has formed the basis of his thesis for his Advanced Higher English! Thanks Neil 🙂

  5. June 17, 2008 7:38 pm

    That’s brilliant to hear… must suggest it to some of our AH pupils as well.

  6. Lucy permalink
    June 19, 2008 4:24 pm

    I’ve read about half of a book by Christopher Booker, called The Seven Basic Plots which exhaustively analyses hundreds of stories to establish what the seven plots are .
    He takes it a lot further and looks at characters and what they represent and how the archetypal characters change orientation or purpose within the different plots.

    Finally (though remember I didin’t get to the end!) I think he looks at what all the plots are trying to achieve in terms of why we tell/write/read/perform these stories. And I think there’s quite a lot of Jungian philosophy about striving for wholeness by accepting and embracing opposites , eg male/female, light/dark, good/bad, spiritual/physical etc

    It was quite interesting, the flaw however is that I still can’t remember what they were! in fact the only one I remember is ‘Voyage and return’…

    There’s a review here

  7. August 9, 2008 2:43 am

    Propp is definitely your guy, here. His analysis of stories lead to a series of events that are necessary for a story to be told:


    Not all of these functions appear in every story, but they always appear in this order.

    I remember taking notes on this in college (I’m not a note taker, so this was clearly something that was important to me, even back then). And, of course, you’ve got the hero’s journey to consider:

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