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  • Writer's pictureCraig Norris

Applying the seven basic plots to news articles. Research Notes.

Updated: May 27, 2023

Basic Plot #1: Overcoming the Monster

The following is generated through dialogue and prompting of ChatGPT.


Have you ever wondered why we love stories so much? Why do we narrate our experiences as if they were novels or movies, even when they are real and factual? Is there a secret behind the power of storytelling? In this episode, we will explore the reasons why people often use stories to communicate information, and how you can use this technique to your advantage.


Why do we narrate our experiences as if they were novels or movies, even when they are real and factual ?

Three possible reasons:

- To create meaning and coherence. Narrating our experiences helps us to make sense of what happened, why it happened and how it affected us. It also helps us to organize our memories and emotions into a logical and consistent structure. As psychologist Julie Beck says, "A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next" ².

- To express and communicate. Narrating our experiences helps us to share our thoughts and feelings with others, as well as with ourselves. It also helps us to connect and empathize with others who have similar or different experiences. As writer Gary Green says, "Sharing stories of people's experiences is not only valuable for promoting understanding — it can help us remember important information that can guide our future actions" ¹.

- To shape and influence. Narrating our experiences helps us to create and maintain our identity, as well as to influence how others perceive us. It also helps us to change and improve ourselves, by editing and rewriting our stories from different perspectives. As psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb says, "Stories help you break free from the stories you've been telling yourself by becoming your own editor and rewriting your narrative from a different point of view" ².


Why do we tell stories? | TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/playlists/756/why_do_we_tell_stories Accessed 26/05/2023.

(2) Storytelling is not just entertainment. It's a fundamental part of .... https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/storytelling-is-human-1.5511027 Accessed 26/05/2023.

(3) Story of My Life: How Narrative Creates Personality - The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/08/life-stories-narrative-psychology-redemption-mental-health/400796/ Accessed 26/05/2023.

(4) The two kinds of stories we tell about ourselves - ideas.ted.com. https://ideas.ted.com/the-two-kinds-of-stories-we-tell-about-ourselves/ Accessed 26/05/2023.


Within Fiction

- Stranger Things (2016): In this popular TV show, a group of kids use their knowledge of science fiction and fantasy stories, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars and E.T., to understand and cope with the supernatural events happening in their town. They also use stories to bond with each other and with new friends, such as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has telekinetic abilities.

- The Matrix (1999): In this groundbreaking movie, a hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers that his reality is actually a simulated world created by machines. He is guided by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who uses references to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and other stories to explain the nature of the Matrix and Neo's role in it.

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Elements of the seven basic plot types that are commonly used in storytelling. According to Christopher Booker, the author of The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, these plot types are:


  1. Overcoming the monster: The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) that threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist's homeland.

  2. Rags to riches: The poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.

  3. The quest: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.

  4. Voyage and return: The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to that location, returns with experience.

  5. Comedy: A light-hearted story that involves misunderstandings, confusion, and mistaken identities, but ends happily with the resolution of the conflicts.

  6. Tragedy: A serious story that involves the downfall of the protagonist due to a fatal flaw or external force. The protagonist usually suffers or dies as a result of their actions or choices.

  7. Rebirth: The protagonist undergoes a major change in their personality or outlook on life, usually after a period of darkness or imprisonment. They emerge as a better person with a new perspective.


  1. Overcoming the monster: Jaws, Star Wars, The Terminator, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Avengers

  2. Rags to riches: Cinderella, Slumdog Millionaire, The Pursuit of Happyness, Rocky, The Social Network, Pretty Woman

  3. The quest: The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, The Da Vinci Code

  4. Voyage and return: Alice in Wonderland, The Lion King, Back to the Future, Avatar, E.T., The Martian

  5. Comedy: Some Like It Hot, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Groundhog Day, The Hangover, Bridesmaids, Borat

  6. Tragedy: Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Gladiator, The Godfather Part II, Requiem for a Dream

  7. Rebirth: Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Matrix, Shrek, Frozen

Sorry wrong number:

  • This script belongs to the plot type of tragedy, which involves a protagonist who suffers a downfall or a death due to a flaw in their character or a mistake in their actions. Mrs. Stevenson's tragic flaw is her dependence on her husband, who turns out to be the one who hired the killers to murder her. Her mistake is to ignore the warning signs and persist in calling for help instead of hiding or escaping.

Criticism:

A counter-argument or alternative explanation using the theory could be that the 7 basic plots are too simplistic and reductive, and that they ignore the diversity and complexity of stories and their cultural contexts. Some stories may not fit neatly into one plot category, or may combine elements from different plots. Some stories may subvert or challenge the conventional expectations of a plot archetype, or may offer a different perspective or interpretation of its meaning. For example, some critics have argued that Frankenstein is not a simple case of overcoming the monster, but rather a tragedy of human hubris and alienation; some have suggested that Harry Potter is not just a quest story, but also a voyage and return, a comedy, and a rebirth; some have proposed that The Hunger Games is not only a rags to riches story, but also a political allegory and a dystopian critique

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  • The quest plot

  • The rebirth plot

  • In this case, the protagonist could be the Australian government or the classification board, who are trying to update the movie rating system to meet the expectations and needs of the consumers. Their goal is to provide more information and transparency about the content of movies, and to reflect the current community standards and sensitivities. Their obstacles and challenges could include conducting surveys, consulting stakeholders, revising the classification guidelines, and implementing the changes. Their change or transformation could be seen as moving from an outdated and vague system to a more modern and specific one. Of course, this is just my creative interpretation and not based on any factual evidence from the web article.

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  • Overcoming the monster: Ford could be seen as the protagonist who faces pressure from lawmakers and public opinion to keep AM radio in their cars. AM radio could be seen as the monster that threatens Ford's innovation and customer satisfaction. Ford initially decides to remove AM radio from their new electric cars, but later reverses its decision after speaking with policy leaders and realizing the importance of AM radio for emergency alerts. Ford overcomes the monster by finding a way to include AM radio in all its 2024 vehicles and offering a software update for existing EVs without AM radio.

  • The quest: Ford could also be seen as the protagonist who embarks on a quest to create new electric vehicles that are more environmentally friendly and technologically advanced. Along the way, Ford faces obstacles such as electrical interference with AM radio stations, customer preferences, and regulatory requirements. Ford eventually achieves its quest by developing new vehicles that have both AM radio and electric engines.

  • Comedy: The news article could also be interpreted as a comedy that involves misunderstandings and confusion between Ford and its stakeholders. For example, Ford assumes that customers do not listen to AM radio based on data collected from its vehicles, but lawmakers argue that AM radio is vital for public safety and emergency response. Ford also removes AM radio from its gas-powered Mustang, but plans to add it back before delivery. The article ends with a happy resolution where Ford agrees to keep AM radio in all its vehicles and offers a software update for existing EVs.

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If I were to interpret the news article as a story, I would say it has elements of the quest and voyage and return. (The quest is a plot type where the protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing temptations and obstacles along the way. The voyage and return is a plot type where the protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to that location, returns with experience.)

  • The news article describes how astronomers use data sonification to explore and understand the universe, which can be seen as a quest for knowledge and discovery.

  • The article also mentions how some astronomers use sonification for outreach and public engagement activities, which can be seen as a voyage and return to share their findings and inspire others.

  • The article also highlights how sonification can create greater opportunities for scientific inclusion and innovation, which are some of the lessons learned from the voyage.


  • If I were to interpret the web article as a story, I would say it has elements of comedy and voyage and return.

  • The article describes how people started writing love letters and poems to trees after they were given email addresses by the City of Melbourne. This creates a humorous contrast between the mundane purpose of tracking maintenance and the poetic expressions of affection. The article also shows how people connect with nature and learn from its wisdom, which could be seen as a form of voyage and return. The article does not fit well with the other plot types, as there is no clear antagonist, quest, rags to riches, tragedy, or rebirth involved.



  • If I were to interpret the web article as a story, I would say it has elements of rags to riches and the quest.

  • The article describes how Jake Sim, an Australian-raised artist, pursued his dream of becoming a K-pop star and achieved success and fame in Korea’s competitive music industry.

  • He went through a series of auditions and challenges to join the group ENHYPEN, which has millions of fans around the world. The article also shows how Jake and other Australian-raised artists are part of a global phenomenon of K-pop, which has a massive and devoted fandom.


  • Overcoming the monster: Garry faces the challenge of dealing with the nazi glorification problem in his game and decides to take action against it by adding a new rule. He also has to overcome his own past attitude of indifference and apathy towards moderation and rules.

  • Rebirth: Garry undergoes a change of heart and perspective as he grows older and becomes a parent. He realizes that his game has a social and moral responsibility and that he needs to protect it from being corrupted by hate and violence. He also hopes to inspire his kids and other players with his decision.

  • Comedy: The article has some humorous elements, such as the sarcastic caption of the first image, the rhetorical question of "If everyone is Hitler then... is anyone really Hitler?", and the use of "nope" as a response to the critics of his new rule. These elements lighten the tone of the article and contrast with the serious topic of nazi glorification.


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