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Only Six Basic Plots

awnlee jawking

Researchers at the Computational Story Lab at Burlington's University of Vermont data-mined through 1,700 popular fiction stories and determined that they all follow one of six emotional arc types. They are as follows:

A rags-to-riches, steadily rising emotional arc, as in the case of "Alice's Adventures Underground" by Lewis Carroll.
A steadily declining emotional arc, often seen in tragedies, like in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
A fall and then a rise.
A rise and fall.
Rise-fall-rise, like in the "Cinderella" fairly tale by Charles Perrault.
Fall-rise-fall.


https://www.cnet.com/uk/news/science-says-there-are-six-basic-plot-types/

Obviously the professor didn't analyse 'Second Chance' by Number 7 - fall-rise-fall-rise-fall-rise...
(Speaking of which, an update is long overdue. I hope Number 7 continues the story.)

AJ

REP

An emotional arc is about change in a characters emotions.

The stories they evaluated all have characters under go emotional changes. What if they encountered a story with no significant change in the character's emotions. It would probably have to be a flash story about a single subject with one character. I could see it as the character gets angry, stays angry, and is still angry at the end; one long angry rant.

How would they have classified such a story?

Do you think the researchers would consider no change to be an emotional arc?

Replies:   John Demille
Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

Rise-fall-rise, like in the "Cinderella" fairly tale by Charles Perrault.
Fall-rise-fall.


Cinderella starts the story as little more than a slave. There is only a rise, not a rise, a fall and a second rise.

Clearly the article is a bunch of BS not worth reading.

Replies:   richardshagrin
John Demille

@REP

What if they encountered a story with no significant change in the character's emotions.


Then they would be reading a cmsix story 😜.

richardshagrin

@Dominions Son

Cinderella starts the story as little more than a slave. There is only a rise, not a rise, a fall and a second rise.


Perhaps you have read an abridged version? Cinderella starts a happy child with a mother and father who love her. Her mother dies and her father remarries a dominant woman with two daughters who together reduce Cinderella's status to little more than a slave. Then she rises to Princess. Looks like "fall - rise" to me. I don't see the initial rise.

StarFleet Carl

@richardshagrin

Then she rises to Princess. Looks like "fall - rise" to me. I don't see the initial rise.


The original article is here:
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601848/data-mining-reveals-the-six-basic-emotional-arcs-of-storytelling/

They're the ones who say:

A steady, ongoing rise in emotional valence, as in a rags-to-riches story such as Alice's Adventures Underground by Lewis Carroll. A steady ongoing fall in emotional valence, as in a tragedy such as Romeo and Juliet. A fall then a rise, such as the man-in-a-hole story, discussed by Vonnegut. A rise then a fall, such as the Greek myth of Icarus. Rise-fall-rise, such as Cinderella. Fall-rise-fall, such as Oedipus.


I would say they consider Cindy starting as a happy child a rise, then the remarriage as a fall, then later the second rise.

Having said that, I wonder how they'd classify other books, ones without nearly the emotional content. They did say that the most popular books are more complex than the simple six things presented, which ... sort of negates their whole premise, doesn't it?

the team says the most popular are stories involving two sequential man-in-hole arcs and a Cinderella arc followed by a tragedy.


In other words, there may only be six emotional arc types out there, but to actually weave your story, you're going to have multiple arcs throughout the whole work.

Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

Looks like "fall - rise" to me. I don't see the initial rise.


That still doesn't fit how the article classifies it.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

rise-fall-rise-fall-rise...


Before they perfected it, the early results of the drug Viagra

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Before they perfected it, the early results of the drug Viagra

The penis rises, the man's vision turns blue and shortly after, he passes out, only to rise again, pop another pill, and begin all over again.

docholladay

@awnlee jawking

I have found most stories always have some goal the MC wants to achieve. The rest is in how they meet that goal or in how the planned path doesn't work properly.

Ross at Play

Congratulations, Awnlee.
You have just won the site's Perpetual Award for the Most Pointless Post Ever Made. :-)
***
My take on it is it's claiming every story can be reduced to a clock beginning on either the 6 or 12, and running for either: 6, 12, or 18 hours.

awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

I suspect they meant rise when Cinders goes to the ball, fall when Cinders has to dash home and resume her life of drudgery, and rise again when the prince finds her and she tries on the glass slipper.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

You're absolutely right.

Let's get back to discussing something relevant and important like the US election recount ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Nah. I'd rather talk about clocks.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

You'd better watch it or someone will clock you one :)

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

You have just won the site's Perpetual Award for the Most Pointless Post Ever Made. :-)

I agree. Reducing every single story every written down to sex basic types is akin to reducing it even further to only 3: protagonist wins, protagonist loses, it ends up with a draw. If you reduce everything to an absurd level, you reduce entire novels to nothing more than a yes or no question, making the entire book irrelevant.

The authors are discussing data points, something that has no bearing to real life, whereas fiction helps bring real life into focus, giving it meaning where, in most people's lives, it has none, and giving readers a way of understanding their lives. Surely, that's more important than whether arguing whether Shakespeare was a charlatan.

Replies:   Lostlady
Lostlady

@Crumbly Writer

Funny you should mention that. I had a teacher in school who actually said something similar. He maintained there were three basic plots; man vs man, man vs nature, man vs fate. I thought it was really a ridiculously pedantic oversimplification.

Switch Blayde

@Lostlady

three basic plots; man vs man, man vs nature, man vs fate. I thought it was really a ridiculously pedantic oversimplification.


Actually, that's true. You don't have a plot without conflict (protagonist wants/needs something and the antagonist is in the way). There are 3 types of conflict:

1. man vs man
2. man vs nature
3. man vs self

So he's right.

btw, 2 more have been added in recent times:

4. man vs technology
5. man vs society

Replies:   Lostlady
Crumbly Writer

@Lostlady

Funny you should mention that. I had a teacher in school who actually said something similar. He maintained there were three basic plots; man vs man, man vs nature, man vs fate. I thought it was really a ridiculously pedantic oversimplification.

If those were all the datapoints that matter, then literature would have ended after the very first three books were written. Reducing all of life's events to only three items is patently offensive. It's based exclusively on glossing over everything that makes literature memorable in the first place.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


If those were all the datapoints that matter, then literature would have ended after the very first three books were written.


Why do you only need one novel per conflict? For example, "Castaway" and "Alive" are both Man vs Nature. Two completely different stories.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

If those were all the datapoints that matter, then literature would have ended after the very first three books were written.


Stories are like a good holiday tour, it's not the destination or the bus that's important, but the scenery along the way. Thus it's how you deal with the content that matters, not the simple statement of what it is.

richardshagrin

@Lostlady

three basic plots; man vs man, man vs nature, man vs fate.


He left out man vs woman (and/or women, if its a harem story)

Replies:   REP  Crumbly Writer
REP

@richardshagrin

He left out man vs woman


I suspect man was used in the generic sense rather than male.

Replies:   Lostlady
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

He left out man vs woman (and/or women, if its a harem story)

or man vs. plant (ala "Little Shop of Horrors") or man vs. undead (aka every single zombie story ever written). However, very often it's man vs. himself, as the protagonist wrestles with their own conscience, deciding, in the end, to become a better man/woman/ponygirl.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


or man vs. plant (ala "Little Shop of Horrors") or man vs. undead (aka every single zombie story ever written).


man vs. plant = man vs nature

man vs. undead = man vs man (a zombie is a dead man)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Lostlady

@Switch Blayde

I didn't mean to say he was wrong, just that he'd grossly simplified it. By the same logic you could say there's only one plot; man vs the universe and Sartre and the existentialists were right.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

man vs. plant = man vs nature

I'm sorry, but in what universe is man vs. a man-eating plant considered man vs. nature?

man vs. undead = man vs man (a zombie is a dead man)

Except most zombies aren't very human like, behaving more like unthinking automatons than most animals (animals are reasonable, while zombies aren't). In that case, it's man vs. unrealistic, purely fictional killing machines, much like movies/books about the paranormal (man vs. paranoid fantasies?).

Lostlady

@REP

Yes in today's politically correct world, it would be taught as Mankind vs, or human vs.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  REP
Crumbly Writer

@Lostlady

Yes in today's politically correct world, it would be taught as Mankind vs, or human vs.

I can see it now: "The epic battle between Mankind vs. the pitiable Humans!"

Dominions Son

@Lostlady

By the same logic you could say there's only one plot; man vs the universe and Sartre and the existentialists were right.


Or the sophists are right and the only story is man vs self.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I'm sorry, but in what universe is man vs. a man-eating plant considered man vs. nature?


It's a plant. A fantasy plant, but a plant.

unrealistic, purely fictional killing machines


Not sure what you mean by "killing machine," but that's why they added man vs technology.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Or the sophists are right and the only story is man vs self.

But, as the sophists themselves claim, man never steps into the same story twice (at least in regards to stories about rivers).

P.S. Email me if you don't get the reference.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Lostlady


I didn't mean to say he was wrong, just that he'd grossly simplified it.


It's all about the belief that you cannot have plot without conflict. He was defining the 3 types of conflicts which I then oversimplified into saying that equates to 3 plots.

I've read articles that claim there are 7 plots and others who say there are 9. I don't believe the discussion is whether there are only six plots, but that although your story might be original, the basic premise has been done before.

REP

@Lostlady

today's politically correct world


Have you ever noticed how a word, term, or phrase starts out as socially acceptable. Then over time, it becomes unacceptable and is added to the vocabulary that politically correct people don't use?

The word is then replaced and the whole process begins anew.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Christopher Booker wrote a 728 book that took him 34 years to write called "The Seven Basic Plots." His are:


According to Mr. Booker, there are only seven basic plots in the whole world -- plots that are recycled again and again in novels, movies, plays and operas. Those seven plots are: 1.Overcoming the Monster, 2.Rags to Riches, 3.The Quest, 4.Voyage and Return, 5.Rebirth, 6.Comedy and 7.Tragedy.


The NYT article is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/15/books/the-plot-thins-or-are-no-stories-new.html?_r=0

ETA: I think Comedy and Tragedy are pushing it. The ancient Greeks would say those are the only two. You can have comedy and tragedy in any of the others.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I think Comedy and Tragedy are pushing it. The ancient Greeks would say those are the only two. You can have comedy and tragedy in any of the others.

No, I think both comedies and tragedies are the badly written stories, as they either make you laugh or cry. In general, few novels are either straight up comedies or tragedies.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
richardshagrin
Updated:

@REP


Have you ever noticed how a word, term, or phrase starts out as socially acceptable. Then over time, it becomes unacceptable and is added to the vocabulary that politically correct people don't use?

The word is then replaced and the whole process begins anew.


I agree, consider how we now and used to refer to persons who it is politically correct to call African-
Americans, or maybe there is some other term in use now. The NAACP was an association of colored persons, but colored is not PC these days. I am surprised they haven't changed the name. Once upon a time, a long time ago, Negro was the politically correct term. The KKK used the N word. (Sounds like the name of Roy Rodger's horse.) Notice how difficult it is to say out loud, in public?

At Halloween Roy and his horse went from house to house looking for candy. Roy would say "Trigger Treat".

Ross at Play

@REP

Have you ever noticed how a word, term, or phrase starts out as socially acceptable. Then over time,

The President of China recently decreed members of the Communist Party should start calling each other 'comrade' again, using a word that literally means "same aspirations".
It's not catching on, as the word is now commonly used to mean gay.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

I'm sorry, but in what universe is man vs. a man-eating plant considered man vs. nature?


If you placed your finger against a sundew leaf and stayed still for long enough, who knows what the digestive enzymes might be able to accomplish ;)

AJ

Capt Zapp

@Ross at Play

... used to mean gay.


Which itself used to mean a cheerful disposition.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I suspect there are hundreds of ways you can slice and dice story categorisations. One that crops up frequently at our writers' group meetings is the mice quotient, which classifies stories according to whether their primary focus is milieu, idea, event or character.

Personally I have a hard time shoehorning stories into one of those categories so I'm not a fan. However I think I've got the hang of the six basic plots in the article I referenced.

AJ

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

No, I think both comedies and tragedies are the badly written stories, as they either make you laugh or cry. In general, few novels are either straight up comedies or tragedies.


If the plot's conflict is successfully achieved, it's Comedy. If not, it's Tragedy.

Crumbly Writer

@Capt Zapp

Which itself used to mean a cheerful disposition.

We've covered this before, but the use of 'gay' to mean homosexual dates back almost as far as it's use to mean happy. It's not a new usage, by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that no one used it in books, television or movies until recently, when it became cache.

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