I am working on a story and looking for examples of a particular type I can read as an archetype that might commonly be taught in writing schools. I believe it was Robert McKee who I heard say that every story at its core is story of a "stranger comes to town" or "stranger in a strange land."

First, is this a widely recognized pattern (i.e. taught as a typical observation in writing schools or degrees)?

If so, apart from the Heinlein novel of that title, are there any widely used examples of each that are typically taught or commonly referenced as iconic?

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! Please take a look at our tour and help center pages. Your question is veering towards the "off-topic", for two reasons: first "are there any examples" is a shopping-list question, and SE tends to frown on those, as the potential number of answers could be very large. Second, we do not discuss existing works - that's what Literature.SE is for. We do use existing works as examples to better understand how to write our own stuff. For that goal, we do examine tropes etc., so your question could be on topic, but I suggest you edit it to focus on the writing part. Oct 6, 2018 at 22:22

2 Answers 2


I love McKee and had not heard that before, but any quest or hero's journey or chosen one storyline would seem to fall in that category.

Star Wars is taught as iconic. It is the hero's journey, and can be mapped to mono-myth or three act structure. Luke is the stranger--his entire history is unknown to him. He is plunged into a world completely unlike moisture farming. Et cetera.

I don't know how widely it is "taught" but it is a common touchstone (Like LoTR) that we can all relate to. Sanderson includes it along with many other common stories in his online course.

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    Related to Star Wars (because Lucas was heavily inspired by the work of Akira Kurosawa) are the movies Yojimbo and its Hollywood remakes A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing. These are literal "stranger comes to town" stories, which is useful because you get to learn the structure without having to spot metaphors for it.
    – Jules
    Oct 7, 2018 at 7:12

I'd never heard of Mr McKee nor the idea that all stories involve strangers but I can see that an argument can be made for it in almost every case. The gunslinger in The Dark Tower is always a stranger and always in strange places, it's the same for any story with a lot of travel, Lord of the Rings is a classic, as are the Chronicles of Narnia. In the case of more sedentary tales where the stranger comes to the protagonist's home there's 'Salem's Lot, The Dresden Files, Nightside and the Dead of Night books by Jonathan Maberry.

There are however a number of narratives that don't quite fit this presentation, stories where the actors don't go anywhere and in which no-one new comes into the setting. The one that immediately comes to mind is Red Shift everyone in the story belongs where and when they are found and the story has them all living their lives as they are meant to without external interruptions (those lives are eventful and unpleasant but local).

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