Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cooking the Books

The writer and journalist Christopher Booker published a book called The Seven Basic Plots. The hypothesis is that all stories have already been told. The seven plots are:
1.       Tragedy – hero to zero usually ending with a death

2.       Comedy – happy ending
3.       Overcoming the monster – Godzilla or Hitler, horror, psychological thriller

4.       Voyage and return – a story of leaving and returning home, as in Alice in Wonderland and Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

5.       Quest – probably the most successful format of our time.
6.       Rags to Riches – zero to hero made popular by writers from Dickens to Archer
7.       Rebirth – The central character finds a new reason for living as in It's a Wonderful Life and Crime and Punishment.

Even these seven premises can be grouped into just two genres of writing: Comedy and Tragedy as William Shakespeare will bear testimony to.

I have given this some thought and to my mind, I cannot argue that there are anymore plots. I have applied Booker's theory to my own writing. But the way I see it is Booker's plots are merely empty cooking vessels, the ingredients, flavour, temperature, texture, depth breadth and aftertaste is down to the writer.

And what about the writer? Fast food or Michelin Star? There is a market for either and anything in between and so there should be. One man's meat is another man's poison, is very true, but there success will have come about from the originality of their recipe not from one of the seven plots.

To achieve originality requires a great deal of thinking outside the box.
Did anyone see 'Heroes of Comedy Spike Milligan' on Channel 4? Milligan brought surrealism to comedy. Had there been no Milligan, there would no doubt have been no Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry. Imagine a world where comedy no longer offered satire, parody, clever word play, farce, irony and a dark side. I for one would have abandoned comedy with the onset of puberty. It was around that time I would listen to 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again' with John Cleese, Tim Brook-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden.

Milligan turned comedy into an art form. For me it's the hardest genre of writing, thinking beyond the outer limits of the box. It sent Spike mad because he could not switch off his quest for the lighter side of life.

Putting your protagonist in a situation way outside his comfort zone has to be one of the first principles of comedy, as I have done with Henley, Fairfax, Neville (in Ushabti) and Norman (Midnight at the Alhambra).

If I was a BBC Commissioner I'd call up Dawn French to be the next Dr Who, wouldn't that make a great show even greater.

To the agent who said there is no market for comedy fiction books, I'm going to send you a signed copy when I do get published. You know who you are.