The Universal Story: the Single Basic Story Plot Theory

There are multiple ways that stories can be told. But here’s the contentious issue for some: are story plots all new and exciting or are there only so many types of stories?

There are as many arguments as stories, I think.

Some popular arguments are that there is only 1 story, 3 stories, 7, 20 or 36 stories-depending who you ask. I want to cover each of these here, starting with the argument that there’s only one story and the name of that story is conflict.

Aristotle began talking about the story concept in his work Rhetoric and in it he described the Tragedy. Many of you will be familiar with Greek literature and that there are certain styles of writing but they boil down into two themes: the comedy and the tragedy. Not to be confused with story plots, the comedy and tragedy can still each be boiled into one main plot: the introduction on conflict. Now, Aristotle doesn’t stop there, he continues with the idea that there is a main action created in response to conflict: Three or four exist and they deal with the action of the character regarding their knowledge of the possible outcomes.

Meditated: As in, acting in full knowledge. For example, in Canada and the United States, Crimes that are “pre-meditated” offer harsher penalties because it demonstrates that the criminal or alleged criminal knew that they were performing a criminal act or making a decision with criminal outcomes. Pre-meditated deaths, for example is considered more heinous than non-pre-meditated, which means that the criminal or alleged is either a murderer or they committed manslaughter. This is a complex way of saying “you know what you did,” or “You couldn’t have known that what you did would result in this” Manslaughter is when a minor crime or neglect results in a death.

To move away from law and towards the story plot: the single plot revolves around conflict and how the character reacts to this conflict. Aristotle says there are the following actions that can be taken when faced with conflict: meditated deed done or un-meditated deed done. He does say that meditated deeds left undone create terrible stories.

An argument here is unrequited love and the like. A sacrifice itself, while not creating action at the end of a story can itself be action. Greek stories are about honor or glory-bound decisions which lead to comic or tragic results thus I disagree a little with Aristotle. I think that inaction at the end of a story can create a sense of action if done properly: the “if you love them, let them be loved by someone better” story is such as this. However I will agree that a story, in which the main character does nothing throughout, would be a terrible story.

Next: I will tackle the Three Basic Story Plots theory.

For my short story based on the prompt: http://www.wattpad.com/11278891-bird-hunting

Aristotle; Jenny Bak ed.(2004). Rhetoric. Dover Thrift Editions.

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