Only 12 stories or plots...

When reading about movies or books, I’ve often heard people remark about how there are only 12 stories to be told, and every plot can be traced back to one of these 12 themes. Is this true, and if so what are the 12 plots? And what are the best movie examples of these stories?

There are many claims that there are only n basic plots, where n can vary widely. Here’s what Cecil says about this claim:

My favorite version of this meme is: There are two stories in the world - “One day, our hero went on a journey” and “One day, a stranger came to town”…

It’s fun to see how whatever story I am reading/seeing, etc., fits into that…

Any universe can be divided into N subsets. It’s all a matter of granularity.

If you Google “there are only 12 stories” you’ll find the line repeated endlessly, but never really attributed to anyone (well, one person attributed it to his writing professor.) The version I first heard was, “there are only 12 plots, and Shakespeare wrote all of them.”

I once asked a writer about it, and the best he could do was:

Man vs. self

Man vs. man

Man vs. society

Man vs. nature

Man vs. destiny/fate/god/etc.

Which can be subcategorized into:

Protagonist triumphs

Protagonist fails

Nothing gets resolved

thats funny…u just described my book/screenplay layout…:rolleyes:

The most substantial discussion of this I’ve read so far was the (very weighty) “The seven basic plots” by Christopher Booker.

The plots are…

Gets book from shelf

Overcoming the monster
Rags to riches
The quest
Voyage and return

That’s not to say that every story features only one of these plots, some can contain many. The book was extremely good and went far beyond the plots element into the history of literature and also the psychology of it too. The discussion of the developments in story telling in the 20th century (particularly from books to films) were very interesting too.

CG Jung wrote pretty extensively about the raw psychology of stories and mythology…anima, animus, archetypes,etc… It’s been a long time since I read the work, and I can’t remember its name, but it would seem pertinent to your OP? It would seem with his theories and terminology it would be possible to devlop some type of base quantitative data to classify any story into a very basic subset of “arching type”.

devilsknew, are you joking, or do you really not know that what Jung was talking about was “archetypes,” not “arching types”?

I thought there was only one plot; “a bunch of stuff happens”.

Any basketball fan can tell you that there are only two plays:

Romeo and Juliet


Put the ball through the hoop