19

The seven archetypes are as follows:

Overcoming the Monster.

Rags to Riches.

The Quest.

Voyage and Return.

Comedy.

Tragedy.

Rebirth.

But surely, there are more? For example, riches to rags? That is one, right? Or would that go into another one, like rebirth, tragedy or even overcoming the monster, the monster being poverty?

What I'm asking is: Are the seven archetypes all of them, or simply the most common, fundamental ones?

  • 4
    In theory, yes, but all of these are gigantic umbrellas and barely useful. – Weckar E. Jul 23 at 20:44
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    This list reads as if the creator was really struggling to come up with seven distinct archetypes, but wouldn't stop until he had seven. Overcoming the Monster is a Quest, Voyage and Return is a Quest, and Comedy/Tragedy are genres, not story archetypes. So really I only count three archetypes in that list. Who made this? – PoorYorick Jul 23 at 21:53
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    In the words of Leo Tolstoy: "All great literature is one of three stories: a man goes on a journey, a stranger comes to town, and Godzilla versus Megashark." – Sigma Ori Jul 24 at 17:12
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    No. Aldous Huxley said there were 12. F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were two. There is no correct answer to this. – user207421 Jul 26 at 8:12
59

No, they are not all of them. This is a common game, there are many books claiming there are 3 plots, 7 plots, 12 plots, 21 plots, 23 plots, whatever.

You could say there is only one plot: Character Has A Problem.

Overcoming the Monster. The monster is the problem.

Rags to Riches. Poverty, disrespect, deprivation is the problem.

The Quest. Finding the McGuffin is the problem.

Voyage and Return. The reason for the voyage is a problem; perhaps a craving for adventure, perhaps a mission.

Comedy. Still always a problem, just this time its funny.

Tragedy. A problem that doesn't get solved.

Rebirth. The problem is the Character, or the solution to the problem demands a major change in the Character.

Romance: The problem is winning the desired partner, or if already won, finding a way to be permanently together.

Non-romantic love: The problem is with forming, pursuing or repairing a non-romantic relationship (parent, child, friend, etc).

Each of these problems can be presented in various ways, with various twists, and the different supposed "archetypes" can meld into each other: From your original list, Overcoming the Monster could easily lead to a Quest, or Rebirth; as could Rags to Riches. Or Rags to Riches could lead to Tragedy; succeeding in the Rags to Riches may leave the MC isolated, vilified, and lonely.

Don't believe it! It may be useful to know how various archetypes or plots unfold, but my advice (after reading about a dozen books on plotting) is to stick to ONE archetype: Your character (or crew) has a problem.

Then something like the Three Act structure. The story starts in Act I, their normal world. The problem appears in Act I. In Act II they try various ways to solve it with varying levels of success. In Act III they try their last hope and either succeed or mostly succeed or they fail.

32

The archetypes are a descriptive framework created by scholars in order to describe stories. Someone had a theory, says every story fits into one of those archetypes. Any story you give them, they will fit it into one of those archetypes, even if it squeaks a little.

For my part, there are stories I struggle to fit into this framework. The Jungle Book, for example. (Kipling's work, not the travesty Disney made of it.) Or Hemingway's The Sun also Rises. I'm sure a scholar could explain to me how they do fit into one of those archetypes. For my part, I don't really see it.

Here's the thing though: as a writer, I don't care. Let the classifiers classify. Me - I write. And my story is not "something that fits some archetype" - it is an absolutely unique creation that is entirely my own. Like a child - sure, it's a mammal. It's a Homo sapiens. But all that is irrelevant - only thing that's relevant is that this is my child, and s/he smiles at me. And my child is entirely unique, right?

  • 1
    The Raven has a definite plot, but it does not fit cleanly into any of those archetypes. – TimothyAWiseman Jul 25 at 19:18
12

Do you want the most stories, or the least stories?

The ad infinitum of plot lists is probably the book Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots by William Wallace Cook. It's a manic collection of (often bizarre) story vignettes, with an algebraic formula for how to string them together. It claims to offer over 2000 plot conflicts, based on his organizing structure "Purpose opposed by Obstacle yields Conflict".

Plotto is essentially a list of (spin wheel) character goals that are thwarted by (spin wheel) stuff that happens, connected by an index of stock characters and supporting roles, sort of in the vein of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but much shorter. The resulting "plot" is a few sentences long, often involving a confusing list of characters and sub-characters, and the author is still expected to provide the creativity and logic to turn it into an actual story.

The most reductive plot list is probably resolving every possible story to 3 Act Structure, a formula with a beginning, middle, and end spaced more or less evenly.

What is the goal?

Is the goal to find a system that inspires creativity? Or is the goal to use a system that helps "normalize" every story into the simplest familiar pattern?

7 is an arbitrary number, and as stated in other answers and comments, the OP's list is apples and oranges (and a couple of onions). What, exactly is being compared (or differentiated) in these supposed "archetypes"?

Is it the progress of the protagonists status? (Rags to Riches)
Is it a Theme or feeling the reader is left with? (Tragedy)
Is it events that happen in the story? (Voyage and Return)
Is it the central conflict? (Overcoming a Monster)
Is it the author's style and voice? (Comedy)

Any system might be helpful, I guess, if the system is based on consistent principles, or at least if the goal is clear.

No, this is not all the story archetypes

A century later, Plotto's extensive list is extremely dated, more a comical curiosity of the past, and one man's attempt to organize a "story mill" so he could churn out an amazing quantity of stories. However, most of his stories published in periodicals under dozens of pen names that fit whatever genre he was targetting, are now lost or forgotten. The few that were converted into novels are not well reviewed. Apparently being a master of formulaic archetypes doesn't make you a good author, just a prolific one.

Formulas are great when you get paid by word-count and you need to churn out generic filler, page after page. For memorable stories that stand the test of time, the author still has to do all the work.

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    Years ago, someone found a copy of Plotto, realized "This is an algorithm", and converted the contents into what was probably the first computerized Story Generator app. I don't remember what it was called, but I bought a copy. – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 25 at 20:13
  • Could you send a link to the Plotto spin wheel? Sounds very interesting – A. Kvåle Jul 25 at 21:36
0

Most attempts at classifying things like this are completely arbitrary. Different writers will come up with different lists, and it's not like you could somehow prove that one is right and the others are wrong.

This reminds me ... nothing about writing, but about classifying. A friend of mine who had not gone to college as a young person decided to go when she was in her 40s. She thought maybe she could get an exemption from some introductory classes based on knowledge she had accumulated over the years. One class she tried to get out of was Politics 101. So she went to see the teacher. The teacher said, "Well, let's see if you know the material." She ten pulled out the textbook, flipped it open, and said, "What are the 7 functions of a political party?" My friend rattled off some things. The teacher said her answer was incomplete and refused to let her out of the class.

The funny part is: My friend was the president of a prestigious Political Action Committee. She was on a first name basis with senators and governors. Candidates struggled to win her endorsement. She probably knew more about politics than the teacher of this class. But because she could not come up with the same list of "the 7 functions of a political party" that were in the textbook, the teacher concluded she didn't know much about politics.

Coming up with a classification scheme in which everything clearly and unambiguously fits in one and only one category is tough. I can see lots of problems with this list. Couldn't a "rags to riches" story also be a comedy? When would "voyage and return" NOT be a "quest"? What about a romance story? That doesn't seem to fit any of these categories. Maybe the author would say that it's an example of "overcoming the monster" where the "monster" is what keeps the couple apart, but at that point he'd be saying that "monster" means any sort of problem, and almost every story is about overcoming some sort of problem, so that category includes all the others. Etc.

Furthermore, there are many ways one could classify stories, just as there are many ways that one could classify almost anything. You might divide stories into tragedy, comedy, romance, whatever you need to complete that list. (There's a funny conversation about this in Shakespeare's Hamlet.) Netflix divides stories into action, drama, horror, science fiction, romance, and new releases. (Maybe some others.) Stories are often classified as children, young adult, or adult. Or as short story vs novella vs novel. People will identify stories as "having a strong female main character" versus ... weak female characters, I guess. Etc etc.

You can come up with a "one and only one category" list if you have simple enough criteria. If you classify by a yes/no question, then everything is either yes or no, maybe you have to provide for maybe or mixed, and you can be confidant you have been definitive. There are some other cases when you can be confidant you are definitive. Like all religious beliefs either say there is no god, there is one God, or there are many gods. Zero, one or more than one. That clearly represents all possibilities. That sort of thing.

So no, this list is not definitive. I don't think this particular list is even a very good one.

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Riches to Rags. Typically this is a western song though.

A series of events. See Tom Sawyer. There's no real progression until the Deus Ex Machina of all that gold in the end, and Huck doesn't even like the result.

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