If you read enough fiction, you may notice that some of the stories start to sound repetitive. “I’ve read this before…” you might think when a particular scene, character, or plot device strongly resembles one you’ve encountered in a different book. So why is this? Are the authors of fiction just not creative or original enough to come up with their own, unique idea? No, that’s not it – or at least, not usually. The actual answer is much more interesting.
There really are only about five different stories, that pretty much any fiction written will pull from. Different people might classify them slightly differently, but basically you have these five:
1. Coming of Age
2. Good vs. Evil
3. Unrequited Love/Romance
4. “My Father Never Loved Me”
5. The Epic Quest
Again, these could be split or reclassified, but those five are the basic stories you will find in most all fiction. Think for a minute about your favorite book. I can almost guarantee you will find that at least one of the above stories applies.
So with only five stories, how do authors write anything original at all? Why do we continue to read new books if we know they have to follow these formulas? I wondered this myself, and in an attempt to figure it out, I paid closer attention to the books I read, and how these basic stories were used.
Many authors will combine some of the elements so that their work could fall into a few of the five categories. For instance, many books contain some element of romance, even if it is not the central theme. The Epic Quest is usually combined with a coming of age story, or maybe a Good vs. Evil theme (think Lord of the Rings). Coming of Age is also frequently combined with the “My Father Never Loved Me” (such as The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass – Will’s and Lyra’s parents are not particularly loving or involved, which is an obstacle the children must overcome as they grow into adults). One of the most successful pieces of fiction – Harry Potter – is in fact a combination of every single one of the above five stories. They are all included, and they are all given a share of the spotlight – no one story takes over the others. This, at least in my thinking, is part of the reason for the huge success of the series.
Other authors make their stories interesting by focusing on something other than the basic plot. Maybe they put their efforts into writing developed, interesting, and realistic characters, or the writing itself has a unique and beautiful style. Sometimes they use one of the five basic stories but tell it from a different perspective.
So why do we continue to read? Because every author, every book, offers something different. The five stories are not limiting unless you choose to see them as such. And also, we readers do not easily tire of these stories. That is why they, not others, have stood the test of time; why they are the five basic stories in the first place. We enjoy them.
~Amelia, Teen Center Advisor