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Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > Booker's Seven Basic Plots > Comedy

Description | Discussion | See also



Comedy covers a wide range of storylines, often with large casts and with the basic comedic mechanism of miscommunication and separation, with eventual enlightenment and joy.

Rather than the misunderstanding being immediately cleared up, it is typically sustained by a dark figure (either a villain or the hero) who benefits from the confusion created. The audience, seeing all sides can laugh at the heroic action that seem understandably ridiculous in the light of full knowledge.

Unlike other plots, the comedy returns to happiness when the separated meet or the villain confesses and is redeemed as everyone forgives one another for the mad things that were said and done.

The basic structure of comedy is:

  1. A little world is under the shadow of confusion, uncertainty, separation and frustration.
  2. Confusion deepens and darkens until everyone is entangled in a seemingly irresolvable nightmare.
  3. Miraculous resolution occurs as truth is discovered, leading to realization, forgiveness and joy.


A classic miscommunication pattern is found in farce, where partial messages, wordplay and other linguistic issues lead to dramatic patterns of mistiming and confusion.

The complex plot and confusion of comedies can make them something like detective 'whodunnit' stories in the way that a part of the pleasure is in working out the real story and the causal chain of events that led to the situation. In fact many comedies could be reframed as 'enlightenment' stories.

Perhaps more than other forms, comedies have an artificiality in the unlikely complexity of the plot, particularly in exaggerated forms such as burlesque, slapstick and farce. When the bounds of normality can be broken, the creative opportunities for producing unexpected hilarity are greatly extended.

The history of comedy has been an increasing sophistication that has mirrored social development. The basis of humor is unexpectedness, so as sophistication leads a wider expectation, the bounds of comedy must expand even further and the tangled web become even more entangled. Comedy has hence become buried to the point where it may not even be realized as such. This is not a recent transition for example where Jonathan Swift and Jane Austen prodded at society in Gulliver's Travels and Pride and Prejudice respectively, yet were widely accepted as standard fiction. In this way, comedy has been a way of encoding criticism that might otherwise lead to punishment of the author.

Examples of comedy include; Much Ado about Nothing, Arms and the Man, The Importance of Being Earnest.

'Comedy' is the fifth of Booker's Seven Basic Plots.

See also

Comedy stories, Using Humor


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

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