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The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,274 ratings  ·  200 reviews
This remarkable and monumental book at last provides a comprehensive answer to the age-old riddle of whether there are only a small number of 'basic stories' in the world. Using a wealth of examples, from ancient myths and folk tales via the plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, it shows that there are seven archetypal them ...more
Paperback, 728 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Bloomsbury Academic (first published October 28th 2004)
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Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: know-when-read
An absolutely infuriating book. The basic premise, that there are a limited number of basic structures to be found in narrative storytelling, is fair enough but hardly anything new. Booker makes some good connections and some of them are undeniably on-the-money. But the whole book is infected by Booker's right wing, traditionalist ideology that it becomes, as it goes along, a deeply unpleasant, reactionary read. For Booker, the ideal man is a martial warrior & the ideal woman a housewife (same i ...more
Oct 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Addendum: the New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake implicitly argues there are only six basic plots.
Professorial type at a blackboard telling students “So, in writing, there are six basic plots, and their sequels and derivative franchises.”
Back to the regularly scheduled quasi-review…


All in all, there is some incredibly worthwhile information here. Too bad it’s overlong, and much worse: it shows a nasty writer at his opinionated nastiest.

But it looks like I never got around to constructing an actual review. So here are my notes. They'll have to do.

◼︎ Read all of Section 1, containing descriptions of
Milena March
Sep 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Though I'm a little uncomfortable dismissing a book that has taken someone half a lifetime to write, I can't help but think that when it comes to The Seven Basic Plots the author's time could really have been better spent. There were points where this book outright insulted me; as a literature student, as a feminist, as a psychology major, and as a lover of stories in general.

The idea of applying Jungian theory to literature is not new, but reading this book often had me wondering whether such a
Jessica Healy
Nov 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: criticism
So I was uncomfortable, early on, with the extreme heteronormative attitude, and the appropriation of Freudian/Jungian discourse as if these theories are just self evident, but I gave it a bit of leeway, because, if problematic, that kind of analysis is at least widespread... But my discomfort and suspicion grew, and at last, I could read no more. I gave up after he attempted to discuss Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Here are the sentences that almost broke my brain:

"The question which then ari
Oct 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
700 pages! A great deal of which is repetition of ideas and extensive plot summaries of exemplar stories throughout time, and can be skimmed. The ideas put forth in this book are appealing intuitively if ultimately unfalsifiable, and familiar if you've ever gotten into Jungian psychology or Joseph Campbell. Basically we're talking about archetypes, the psyche, and evolutionary drives; the human desire to "re"connect with "something greater," which might be god or more likely perpetuation of the ...more
Nov 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: literary, writing, reading
Finished at last. What an utter waste of time - but in a sick sort of way I just had to keep going, to see just how bad it could get. He started off with a good idea - that a lot of stories have similar basic plot outlines. Unfortunately he then gets a bit carried away, comes up with a formula, then applies it not just to literature, but the whole of human history. Which is all a decline from some prelapsarian state of blessedness. It's like the theory of the four humours in medicine - it seems ...more
Michael Herrman
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is 5x thicker than it needed to be. If it didn't make a very few fine observations I would have thrown it against the wall, which would have left a considerable hole.

Repetition aside, its greatest weakness is Booker's inability to disentangle his personal prejudices from what makes a story work in the general sense. For example, according to Booker, if the hero doesn't vanquish the villain and run off with the (victimized) female who, he maintains, is nothing more than a projection of
Santiago Ortiz
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is actually many things:

- An introduction to the seven basic plots and their many associated archetypes that work in combination.

- A system. It can be applied to any story you know (and it’s fun to do so).

- A tool. An almost obligatory read for anyone who invents stories. If you don’t tap on this 37 years research you’re simple on disadvantage. It’s not that everyone should follow the author's guidance in order to write stories that fulfill the self and not the ego, on the contrary, a
Rita Crayon Huang
Apr 06, 2009 added it
Recommended to Rita Crayon by: Heidi
I didn't mean to read this book. I just wanted to know see what the seven basic plots were! But I devoured the first 300+ pages in a way that made me realize I just might read all 700. (It's just so lucid! With all this yummy discussion of well-known stories from throughout the ages, FOR all ages . . . )

The next 150 pages or so have made me increasingly uneasy, as we discuss all the ways in which stories can go "wrong"--AND what this says about their authors. Not to mention us as a society. AND
Apr 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
The Seven Basic Plots
Author: Christopher Booker
Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group
Published In: New York City, NY / London, UK
Date: 2004
Pgs: 728


A small number of basic stories permeate the world. They are hardwired into the human psyche. These plots exist in ancient myths, folk tales, play, novels, campfire tales, James Bond, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. These plots go to the way that we imagine s
Adam Stevenson
Mar 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
I read the book in one sitting, powered through the sheer weight of verbiage by the force of my hatred for it.

To say there are 7 plots and they represent ways of talking about overcoming the ego is fair enough - but when he can't find a single novel that properly exemplifies these ideas, it may have been time to ditch the theory.

Instead he concludes that all authors since the romantic movement have not been emotionally mature enough to fit his theory, so it must be the author's fault. Not a faul
Nov 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Perhaps you have heard that there are no new stories, there are only the retelling of old stories. Or maybe you have heard it said that there are only a small number of basic stories. Well, Christopher Booker took these statements seriously, and spent a lifetime writing his book about them and published it in 2004. He asserts in the beginning that there are only seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster as exemplified by Beowulf and Star Wars, Rags to Riches with Joseph in the Bible and David Co ...more
Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A fascinating but infuriating book which requires one to accept the premise that Jungian archetypes form the only satisfying basis for a narrative. This premise is explored through the means of numerous if partial examples from both literary and popular culture. The author's bias and erudition make this an enjoyable read and it is worth persevering to the end, however there are several annoying factual errors in the plot summaries. And Booker's despair with regard to novels and other works from ...more
Thomas Edmund
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wow, this is quite a tome to try and write a review for - at 700ish pages and as the authors says: taking half his life to write one struggles to do it justice!

I'll be cheeky and divvy my review into the same sections as the book. Even though it makes my completionist obsession twist I thoroughly recommend considering reading seperate sections of this book as they take your interest, simply because this is such a massive and thorough book!

PART ONE - the basic plots

The first section delves into
B. Tollison
Aug 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
If you want to read this book because you think the author is going to outline seven basic stories that permeate through all or at least most of written literature then you're going to be disappointed.

For one, Booker focuses almost solely on Western stories and literature. And even then, the seven basic plots that he offers (he actually changes it to nine at the end of the first section) in no way incorporates all or even most of the stories (written or otherwise) in Western civilisation. The se
Regret Husk
Apr 23, 2020 rated it liked it
The Seven Basic Plots is a book on the Guildhall School of Music and Drama reading list for MA Acting students, written by climate change denier Christopher Booker (The Real Global Warming Disaster (2009)). The book holds that every story, and indeed real life, follows the five stages of progression: anticipation, dream, frustration, nightmare, and destruction or rebirth. This last stage more than any other defines the genre of the work: rebirth or the 'happy ending' if the characters have been ...more
Daniel Teo
Mar 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers, readers
Shelves: writing
Anyone who likes reading or writing, or even some other form of storytelling (like movies for example) really owes it to themselves to read this book. This book will give you so many great new insights and you will gain a much deeper understanding and appreciation on how stories are built up. I found myself looking at stories differently than I did before.

Booker explains how all stories basically fit into one of the seven basic plots. What's more, those stories will go through the same five main
Janice (JG)
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I purposefully did not research this author before finishing the book because I wanted to absorb the book on its own merit.

I loved the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed Booker's conjectures and conclusions about why humans seek meaning in their stories, and what meaning they seek. The only real flaw in the book (for me) was toward the end when he was discussing contemporary fiction... I think Booker's British experience and passionate nationalism clouded and somewhat distorted his otherwise mostly
Erin Lale
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book helped me do something I find excruciatingly difficult: describe my own novel. I read this book when I was trying to write back cover copy for Punch book 1: The Loribond. It was only in reading The Seven Basic Plots that I realized I had unwittingly written a comedy.

The Seven Basic Plots is a humongous tome. For a book that purports to survey all of human literature to reveal the basic driving psychology of human storytelling, it's focused on the DWMs a bit too much for me. There were
Garry Powell
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is first-rate criticism--and I am usually averse to criticism, as in my view few critics understand literature. (Perhaps that sounds absurd, but I think most writers agree with me.) It's also a particularly useful book for writers. Its basic premise is that Jung is correct on his theory of the archetypes, and if stories are to mean anything to us, they need to conform, basically, to archetypal patterns. Obviously that doesn't mean that they need to be formulaic. Booker thinks that western l ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An exellent book that I highly recommend to any writer, or "wannabe" writer. It helps if you have some concept of Jungian psychology, but the author does a good job of making his discussion of the concept of the "self" and "ego" very approachable. He does synopses of many famous stories, ranging from ancient folk tales to modern Hollywood blockbusters. If you've ever wondered why you found a particular story unappealing, reading this book might help you understand why. I foresee this book being ...more
Linda Robinson
Too much of a muchness, as my grandmother was fond of saying. Nothing revelatory or fascinating, and every other word could be eliminated. I appreciate the research and the hours behind the book, but the outcome is a daunting and misnamed book. Covers "how" in great detail and leaves hanging the "why." ...more
Emma Sea
I'm quitting this. I'm really perlexed that Brooker is acting as if the idea of the commonalities in stories is merely a "teasing notion" to everyone else, and that he's the only person to actually research it. Plus this review. ...more
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This massive, in-depth work presents a unified theory of the art of storytelling based on Jungian psychology.

As I recall, this was another work that came to my attention via the Goodreads recommendation engine. When I checked out its contents on Amazon, I knew I had to get it. Here was a large, serious work on the basic plots of storytelling--a subject that I have been trying to come to grips with myself over the years. When the book arrived, I plunged in with great interest.

And in the main, the
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Full disclosure: I didn't finish this book. But that's partly why I give it only 2 stars.
1. It was much longer than it needed to be.
2. It made me angry, or at least uncomfortable, with where the author was taking his arguments.

The first section of the book was interesting and worthwhile. The author demonstrated how stories -- from all over the world and from ancient times to modern -- can be categorized by seven basic plots. I enjoyed reading the examples (summaries of books, movies, operas, f
May 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Booker's identification of the principal narrative structures underlying the best examples of stories, novels, plays and films is attractive and, seen retrospectively, intuitively right. Those seven plots (which he entitles Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Rags to Riches, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth) singly or in combination naturally appear to underpin a very large proportion of the narratives Booker approves of. The first part of this mammoth study seems to triumphantly pr ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebooks, college
I think if you stick to the technical juice of the book and to the presence of mind it takes to come up with the definition of the different plots, this is pretty neat.
Yet, the lack of diversity in the examples, namely on the gender of the authors (that was the one that struck me the most) is definitely a turn-off. I think that if the author had stuck more to the actual matter at hand, instead of throwing so much opinionated secondary thoughts, everyone would probably have enjoyed this a bit mor
Sep 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
The thing I recall most about this book was the author's feeling that something has grown askew within the 21st Century story if we can't resolve things 'the way we used to' - Post modernism? Something about storytelling inside that giant evolving universal perspective appealed. Stories are incredibly powerful. I didn't finish this book, but I cherry-picked some gold. However, I read these structural writing books and then instantly try to forget them. I don't want to feel to head ...more
Katie Higgins
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Only managed to read part one before needing to bring it back to the library. What I read so far though I did like, even when it got a little dry. I hope to finish the rest of it this summer. X
Dec 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
I don't know if I've ever been so let down by a book. At the beginning I was really loving it, starting by comparing the plots of Beowulf and Jaws was so interesting and I was looking forward to the book doing more of that, even if it was too long I was completely game for a book about how all the stories are alike in some fundamental ways.

Unfortunately after describing those basic plots--in what felt like vaguer and vaguer terms as they went through it, the author just goes on to infuriate. Thr
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Christopher John Penrice Booker is an English journalist and author.

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