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Booker's Meta-Plot

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > Booker's Seven Basic Plots > Booker's Meta-Plot

Anticipation | Dream | Frustration | Nightmare | Resolution | See also

 

In 'The Seven Basic Plots', Christopher Booker describes a common plot that reaches across and binds together the more specific detail of his plot patterns.

This can also be viewed in the three stages of beginning, middle and end as the story rises, enacts and resolves. Heroes go through dark to light, achieving goals and changing themselves along the way, defeating inner enemies as much as external monsters.

An interesting parallel is the journey of the teenager as they break away from the family, at first enjoying their new freedom but eventually meeting harsh realities and being forced to grow up and take responsibility. It is perhaps unsurprising that this traumatic life transition is echoed in so many story forms.

Anticipation

The plot starts in normality, where the hero may be comfortable and living an normal life. Then something changes to inject a new tension into the hero's life, for example:

  • A shadow is cast in which the presence of the villain is felt, such as in raids or threats of future domination.
  • A great treasure or distant need is spoken of.
  • Boredom and domestic issues make home life less comfortable.

The tensions created from such events lead to powerful emotions such as a sense of loss and anger about homes destroyed or people killed and the need for revenge or restitution. Tensions may also start from greed or desire to gain treasure or power over others.

Associated with this there is often a feeling of darkness which may or may not have focus in a villainous being. The hero may start opposing this, but may also be in thrall to the brooding dark.

This leads to the call to action and the hero prepares to leave as the 'real' story gains momentum.

Dream

The early stages of the continuing story have an almost dream-like quality and form an almost predictable pattern. Typically this is of of easy success and apparent progress, although the exact patterning is appropriate to each plot, for example in the way confusion develops in a comedy.

After the constriction of the first stage, this stage expands. It is accompanied by a sense of freedom, possibility and maybe omnipotence as the hero's thrusts into the world have every effect desirable. Journeying covers much ground. Monsters are easily defeated. The end seems to be in sight.

Frustration

The central surprise of the plot occurs where the easiness of the dream meets the real power of the dark or some other arresting situation. The expectation of an early and easy end to the story is frustrated as new information and new experience shows that the end is far from in sight.

This revelation may be sudden, for example when the true power of a monster is experienced or an important member of the party dies. It may also be a rising frustration, such as where the terrain and weather in a journey becomes increasingly harsh. A confrontation reveals that all is not as was assumed.

This turning point is typically as a fold, where a previous belief is shaken and the story takes a new course. An example is in detective stories, where the prime suspect turns out to be innocent, or in fantasies, where apparently benign aliens turn out to have an agenda of domination.

Nightmare

Following the frustration of discovery that all is not as easy as was thought, things go from bad to worse and the very real chance of failure is exposed. Difficulties worsen and the hero seems assailed from all directions.

This is a period of transformation as we discover the true character of both good and bad characters. The hero reaches deep inside to wells of courage and determination as the blustering coward flees and the real battle to the end commences.

Resolution

Eventually things come to a head as the hero meets the monster, reinforcements arrive or new information changes the perspective to enable final enlightenment.

At this stage the bad people and monsters meet their doom as the good people achieve their victory and just rewards. Differences are resolved and tensions released in a glorious conclusion that leaves the audience relieved and satisfied.

Although there may be some mopping up and tying off of loose ends to tidy up the tale, the story is now effectively ended.

Notably, Booker ends the plot structure on a high note. This may be contrasted with such as the Five-stage Story Structure, where the climax is only the third of five stages.

See also

The Five-stage Story Structure

 

Booker, C. (2004). The Seven Basic Plots, London: Continuum Books

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