It's already been done!

In 'The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories,' Christopher Booker explains the seven (7) basic plots all novels have (Stevens, 2006). According to Booker, no matter what you've written, your book will fall into one of these categories:
  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth
A psychologist named Carl Gustav Jung outlined the twelve (12) common character archetypes, later known as Jungian Archetypes. According to Jung, no matter what main character you've written, if they're realistic, they will fall into one of these categories:
  1. The innocent
  2. The orphan
  3. The hero
  4. The caregiver
  5. The explorer
  6. The rebel
  7. The lover
  8. The creator
  9. The jester
  10. The sage
  11. The magician
  12. The ruler
By the logic of Gustav and Booker, that means there is a finite number of stories that exist, based on the main character and plot. How many, exactly? Let's do some math. Literacy and Numeracy: Together at last!

(12 archetypes) x (7 plots) = 84 story possibilities

Seems like a low number, and it is, when considering in 2010, the United States alone published 328,259 original novels & editions (according to UNESCO).

How long do we have before we run out of stories? Let's do some more math.

(84 stories) / (328 259 stories per year) = We're already out of time! It's very conceivable that every archetype main character has already been written into every plot

Sure there's holes in my argument. I know that. I definitely haven't accounted for books published outside of the states (and shame on me, I'm Canadian!). There are other English speaking nations. And let's not forget the publications in other languages. With those factors included, I think it's definitely safe to say every combination has been done, somewhere, at some time, in some language.

So how do you make a story unique?
  1. Just because it's been done, doesn't mean it's been done by you! Your story will be unique with your writing style and voice. There's more to a novel then just the basic plot and the main character archetype.
  2. I only accounted for the main character, not the villains or the supporting cast. That opens up more possibilities (more math!). Your story will be unique with your surrounding cast of characters and their interactions.
  3. Take the cliche and twist it. Sure your plot and main character have been done in combination before. So what? Use that to your advantage and add an unexpected ending.
  4. If you write urban fantasy, science fiction, futuristic or paranormal, the story can be unique in the world you set it in.

So if you're a writer, how do you make your story unique?
If you're a reader, what stories have you read that you feel were really unique, and why?

J.C. McKenzie

*Coming Soon* Shift Happens: A Carus Novel

Stevens, Anthony (2006). "The archetypes" Ed. Papadopoulos, Renos. The Handbook of Jungian Psychology.


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