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The seven basic storylines: #4 Rebirth

Chrysalises and butterflies

One thing you may not have realised about stories is that, for all the possible variations, each falls into one of seven archetypal narratives, as described by Christopher Booker. In this miniseries, our guest contributor, author Lewis Bright Rees, will take you through them.

You are a villain, a misanthrope or even just an introverted main characterYou could be successful, even happy, in your role, but we all know that stories thrive on conflict. If you’re a truly terrible person, don’t worry – it’s not your fault. The author’s made you the star of a ‘Rebirth’ story.

Time to change your ways

More than any other storyline, Rebirth stresses character development. Whether it’s becoming a better person or just coming out of your shell, the events the character experiences will change them intrinsically, usually for the better. This makes it the most relatable of the seven basic storylines.

None of us are the same people we were ten years ago, and that’s without an author deciding to build a narrative around us. We’ve all had new experiences, breakups, romances or new friends, and each one of them has changed us, for better or worse, in ways we don’t necessarily understand.

Villains as protagonists

Like the Rags to Riches storyline, Rebirth often applies to the lives of a character or two, if not the story as a whole. However, while Rags to Riches rarely strays from the realms of realism, Rebirth is more than comfortable bringing in fantasy or sci-fi elements. In either genre, the need for change is often somehow enforced within the story – by the witch’s curse in Beauty and the Beast, for instance. If not, the character almost always starts out as a villain or, at least, a misanthrope – like Gru in Despicable Me  rather than someone who’s problems are purely internal.

Dramas, comedies and coming-of-age tales are often centered around the Rebirth storyline, while genres like horror are rarely  if ever  rooted entirely in it.

Nobody’s perfect

The thing is, nobody’s perfect. Authors  or, good authors, at least  understand this. The term ‘Mary Sue’ describes a character with no (or, at the most, superficial) flaws, who often exists to serve the author’s own wish fulfilment. These characters are particularly common as original characters in fanfiction, and are generally a big blaring sign of poor writing. We want our characters to resemble us – flawed, imperfect people.

It may come slowly or all at once, but most well-written characters go through an evolution of some form that demonstrates this. Whether it is the result of a single large event or several smaller ones, our characters are never the same at the beginning of their story as they are at the close.

The change is the key

With the Rebirth storyline, the change is the very core of the story. The misanthrope learns to love, the villain saves the day, the introvert comes out of his shell. It’s not the Beast becoming human that’s key to this storyline in Beauty and the Beast  even the curse is superfluous.

The focus of this narrative is how the protagonist changes over the course of the story to become a more well-rounded person. They start out with one or more crippling characteristics that are gradually whittled down until, ultimately, they end up better suited for the world and their story.

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Photo credit: iStock.com/Mathisa_a

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