I remember being surprised when I learn about Christopher Booker’s theory that every story fits into one of seven basic plots. It seemed to me that there was such a variety of stories out there. How could they all be reduced to seven basic plots? And as an aspiring writer who is constantly bombarded by the idea that agents and publishers are looking for something original, the idea that every story ever written fits into one of these seven patterns is a bit disheartening. How many original stories can come from seven basic plots?
Maybe a lot more than you would think.
My husband showed me this YouTube video a few weeks ago by a group called The Axis of Awesome, a comedy band. In the video, they showed how all the greatest hits in the past forty years are based on the same four chords, and by repeating those four chords, you can sing almost any pop song ever written. I found the whole thing fascinating because a lot of the songs that I knew were really so different from each other even though they all used the same basic four chords.
So below are two of the Axis of Awesome’s four chords YouTube videos. In the first one, they discuss what a four chord song is and list all the titles of the songs they used while playing them. The second one is their music video which is just funny. I will give a warning that there is some strong language (very little actually), but don’t let that keep you from watching it. It is pretty funny and also amazing to see how all these songs use the same four chords.
I don’t know anything about composing music, so link here to someone more knowledgeable to explain why those four chords are so magical if you’re curious. The above link talks about how the four chords is just one aspect of a song, the harmony, but music contains so many other elements like “melody, rhythm, tempo, meter, dynamics, articulation, and timbre.” Maybe I’m over-estimating a bit, but I think by tweaking other variables there may be an infinite number of songs that can be composed based on these four chords.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going here. Stories also have a lot more aspects to them then plot. There is characters, setting, tone, style, theme, conflict, etc. I think you could take one of these seven basic plots and by changing the other story variables come up with an infinite number of stories.
I’m not really sure if every story can be boiled down to one of Booker’s seven basic plots, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they could. I believe all stories have familiar patterns in them and part of becoming a good story teller is getting a feel either consciously or subconsciously for those patterns. For some reason, maybe it is because they are somewhat familiar, we are drawn to those patterns.
Maybe that is the same with the four chord songs, that there is a familiar pattern there that we find so appealing. Maybe what we want from stories and songs and art in general is something familiar and surprising at the same time.
Happy writing and Happy New Year’s.