01 October 2009

The Only 36 Stories the World Has Ever Known

"In cases of absolute desperation, we can turn to the French."
-Joseph O'Connor

In my Fiction Workshop today, my professor, Mr. O'Connor, presented us with an odd remedy to coming up with an "inciting incident," the event from which all subsequent events in a story unfold. After suggesting a variety of different forms the inciting incident can take, he briefly explained the work of 19th Century French writer, Georges Polti. Polti studied all the classical works of antiquity, the sacred Judeo-Christian texts, and European legends he could find, and came to the conclusion that, essentially, the whole world contains only 36 stories, which are repeated in variation, combination, and disguise. Here are the 36:

1. Supplication: a character is desperately seeking something
- a Persecutor; a Seeker; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful
2. Deliverance: a character is in danger and is saved
- an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer
3. Crime pursued by vengeance
- a Criminal; an Avenger
4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
- Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both
5. Pursuit
- Punishment; a Fugitive
6. Disaster
- a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Misfortune
7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
- an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune
8. Revolt
- a Tyrant; a Conspirator
9. Daring enterprise
- a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary
10. Abduction
- an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian
11. The enigma: a problem needs to be solved by the character
- a Problem; an Interrogator; a Seeker
12. Obtaining
- a Solicitor and an Adversary who is refusing, or an Arbitrator and Opposing Parties
13. Enmity of kin or family
- a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
14. Rivalry of kin
- the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
15. Murderous adultery
- two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
16. Madness
- a Madman; a Victim
17. Fatal imprudence
- the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
18. Involuntary crimes of love
- a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
- the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
- a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
21. Self-sacrifice for kin
- a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
22. All sacrificed for passion
- a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
- a hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
- a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
25. Adultery
- two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
26. Crimes of love
- a Lover; the Beloved
27. Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one
- a Discoverer; the Guilty One
28. Obstacles to love
- two Lovers; an Obstacle
29. An enemy loved
- a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
30. Ambition
- an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
31. Conflict with a god
- a mortal; an Immortal
32. Mistaken jealousy
- a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
33. Mistaken judgment
- a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
34. Remorse
- a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
35. Recovery of a lost one
- a Seeker; the One Found
36. Loss of loved ones
- a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner

Don't know if I agree, but it sure is an interesting concept.


P.S. I guess fuck the hiatus?


  1. There's a limited amount of stable elements, doesn't make it any less beautiful when they come together to form a chocolate cake. Also, Fatal Imprudence? I can't help but think there has to be something else out there.

  2. I didn't realize this site was back from its hiatus!

  3. Use the method, create your own madness. That's something my thesis professor said my first class.

  4. yeah, kids. fuck the hiatus. make this blog good again!

  5. some imported beer and a few nights and i;m sure we can come with a 37th story, strangely i just realized how good of a band name that may make...

    THE 37th STORY

    they'd play prog metal, of course.