Structures to Make Stories Familiar, Yet Fresh

 Storytelling is powerful, but sometimes storytellers are stymied and need help getting started. Here are seven plot structures that audiences will recognize.

Storytelling is powerful, but sometimes storytellers are stymied and need help getting started. Here are seven plot structures that audiences will recognize.

Storytelling is a proven way to make your point in a memorable way. While we learn to listen to and tell stories as children, many adults forget the basics. Author Christopher Booker has provided a refresher course.

Booker says storytelling boils down to seven basic plots. Master them and you can become a spellbinding storyteller.

Instead of reading his book, The Seven Basic Plots, which veers off topic to denounce soap operas, the metric system and feminism, Quid Corner, a British financial resource blog, has reduced his concepts to a series of easy-to-access infographics.

To be effective, storytelling must be authentic, not the sum total of a formula. However, some basic plot structures can help a stymied storyteller get started.

According to Booker, the seven plots are overcoming a monster, rags to riches, voyage and return, the quest, comedy, tragedy and rebirth. The Quid Corner infographics offer advice on how to use each basic plot to tell a story or make a presentation.

You can think of the infographics as paint-by-the-numbers storytelling and treat them accordingly. But before scoffing them into insignificance, they are useful mini-guides to creating a recognizable story architecture. Many stories fall flat because the audience gets confused, loses track of the plot and misses the point of the story.

In the “rags to riches” plot structure, for example, someone overcomes major obstacles to achieve success. This doesn’t have to be only about Horatio Alger heroes who with fortitude go from impoverished to wealthy. This story line is one we see, in one form or another, a lot. A child is diagnosed with cancer, doctors are stymied, then the child receives an experimental procedure and defeats cancer. A man is fired because he is an alcoholic, his family leaves, he becomes homeless, then he seeks help, sobers up, gets a job and regains his self-respect. These are compelling narratives with a familiar plot.

All of the plot structures Quid Corner illustrates can be used in a similar fashion. You don’t need a real “monster” to trace Booker’s plot line of overcoming one.

The real value of Booker’s synthesis of plot structures – and Quid Corner’s infographics – is to give storytellers an outline of how to tell their story in a way that is at once familiar, yet fresh: What elements to include, a sequence to follow and a tie-in between the rags starting point and the riches finish line.

The structure of the story is critical so you don’t baffle listeners, but instead give them a familiar path to follow to the fresh point you want your story to make.