36 storylines in the world

The Only 36 Storylines…in the World

I’ve posted before how I don’t believe there are any truly original storylines left in the world. I know some will disagree with me, but I’m not the only one who believes this.

According to this blogger, a French writer named Georges Polti actually came up with 36 storylines that have been done over and over again. In this case it’s thirty six “dramatic situations.”

This could be applied to any genre, from romance to mystery, in my opinion. The Cinderella story is a good example for romance. Pygmalion would be another. This interpretation of storyline happens in comedy all the time. Just take a look at some of the finest older sitcoms ever produced on TV and each episode is something that was usually done before.

The reason why I think it’s important to know this is because it’s not something new. It’s not even parody, like I’ve done more than a few times with erotic romance. You might think the latest book you’re reading…or writing for that matter…is completely original, but the fact is that the storyline can most likely be traced to something that’s already been done before in the past. I don’t think this is anything to get upset about. The way storylines are written, produced, and interpreted vary each time they are done. And the important thing to remember is how well they’ve been done, which is where the originality really matters. In other words, anyone can reinterpret the Cinderella storyline, but that doesn’t mean they will do it well.

Here’s a list of Polti’s thirty-six storylines:

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


Ten years ago I probably would have disagreed with this concept and ranted about how originality is the only thing that really matters. But not anymore. I’ve seen too much and read too much. And so far I haven’t found anything of any quality that’s ever been completely original…quality being the key word here.