The Seven Basic Plots Throughout the History of Storytelling

In their recently published book, The Imagination Game, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller explain how to spark new ideas and create your company’s future.

In Chapter Six, they examine the seven basic plots throughout the history of storytelling. Briefly:

VOYAGE AND RETURN: The protagonist leaves the familiar and ventures into a geographically or socially distant place.

ESCAPE FROM DEATH: The protagonist sets out to defeat a dangerous or disruptive force that threatens themselves or their group, often transforming themselves or their group in the process.

RAGS TO RICHES: The protagonist starts off marginalized or dejected before discovering and using their true strengths, gaining experience, wealth, or success in some form.

THE QUEST: The protagonist has a clear task to accomplish or location to reach. They face setbacks and doubts, and must grow internally to accomplish the goal.

COMEDY: The protagonist is lost in chaos through confusion of identities and misunderstandings. Everything gets tied in knots until, through genius or accident, the knot is untied and order is restored.

TRAGEDY: The protagonist is sucked into a downward spiral, resolved in destruction, although the destruction might be a necessary loss, in which case the story ends in solemn rejoicing.

REBIRTH: The protagonist falls into a frozen condition; they are physically or spiritually stuck, trying to rediscover life and rigor.

The Imagination Game was published by Harvard Business Review Press (June 8, 2021).

For the absolute best advice on how to develop the skills to become a high-impact storyteller, check out Annette Simmons. Her contributions to thought leadership are of incalculable value.

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