Master Plot Series: Mystery

Oho! What have we here? I can hear you saying,”But, Kit, we already did all 7 of the 7 Plot Archetypes! How are we still going?”

Christopher Booker, who wrote The Seven Basic Plots, actually has nine plots. He just doesn’t approve of two of them.

But unfortunately for Booker, just because he doesn’t like a story form doesn’t make it not an archetype.

Booker describes his 8th archetype, Mystery, as a story where an outsider tries to discover the truth of some horrible event. His objection to this as an archetype comes from the fact that the investigator doesn’t have a personal connection to the crime they’re investigating, and so the story lacks the inner conflict/emotional arc of a “true story.”

However, for the sake of argument, I would say that the inner conflict is not necessarily what makes a story. Sure, most stories do have inner conflict and the story is improved (in many cases) by the emotional impact, but we’re not here to judge stories, just to categorize them.

And mysteries are definitely stories. Very popular ones.

Some of my favorites.

And while you do find some that are basically just logic puzzles, where the investigator does come in and lead the reader through the complicated steps of How It Was Done, there are certainly Mystery stories out there where the investigator does have an emotional connection to the crime, and where there are very real consequences for the main character if the crime is not solved.

That being said, it may be that Booker considers this latter type (the mystery where the stakes are important to the main character/investigator) to fall under a different archetype. Tragedy, maybe.

Still, a Mystery is not really a Tragedy. Yes, normally at least one person dies (sometimes more, sometimes no one if something’s been stolen instead, etc.), but even if it is someone close to the main character, there’s still a different feel at the end of the story–that justice has been done, and often a feeling of triumph at having solved the problem, whatever it was. It definitely tends to be more optimistic than a Tragedy, especially if it’s a series and said character shall be seeing several people expire over the next few years.

What do you think, Squiders? Is Booker right in his dislike of the Mystery Archetype?

Favorite mysteries? I’m always up to read a new one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: