First of all, thanks to Chris Nickson for filling the Thursday space last week with his usual blend of great writing, thoughtful views and good humour. I’m fortunate to have such a good friend among published authors. Something is always happening in his life, and last week’s something was the kind of thing that must give any writer a considerable buzz. Even taking into account Chris’s reservations, it must be great to get that call. Fingers crossed the call develops into something more substantial, and that it works out well; no one deserves it more.
And while Chris was taking the reins, I was, as he mentioned, in Stratford-upon-Avon, treading the streets and breathing the air once trodden and breathed by one William Shakespeare Esquire. Well, maybe not quite the same streets – I don’t think tarmac had been invented in the 16th century – but since the house he was born in and several others connected with his family are still there and available to be visited, the town can’t have changed out of recognition.
The play we saw (you have to see a play – it’s Stratford!) was Two Noble Kinsmen, which is one of those grey areas in the Shakepearean canon. Of course it’s impossible to be sure four hundred years on whether there actually was someone called Will Shakespeare, and whether he wrote all those plays if there was, but that’s an argument for more learned folk than I will ever be. And some of those learned folk have concluded that he co-wrote several plays with a fellow playwright called John Fletcher, and this is one of them.
I wasn’t at all familiar with the play, and didn’t realize until I read the synopsis in the programme (I think that translates as playbill to my American friends) that it was based on The Knight’s Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Which brings me to my Thought for the Day.
A few years ago, when ‘teaching’ creative writing courses and workshops formed part of my regular activities, one piece of received wisdom I used to find useful was the hypothesis that there are only seven basic plots. Which could go some way to explaining why Shakespeare shamelessly plundered classical myths and other sources for his.
(Crime fiction, of course, almost without exception, is fundamentally the triumph of good over evil, sometimes with something else on the side, sometimes not. Which, I suspect, is why it’s so popular. So much evil stalks the world at the moment that we all need a little comfort; reading a novel in which good ultimately wins allows us to feel a little more optimistic in the face of the bad guys who seem to think they have a right to trample over everyone else.)
A challenge I used to set the people in my classes and workshops was this: are there really only seven? Can you think of any more? And guess what – no one ever did. Amazingly, every story in the world comes down to those seven basic premises, sometimes used individually, sometimes in combination.
So, just in case anyone is actually reading this, I hereby throw out that challenge again. Here are the seven, as a quick aide memoire:
The Eternal Triangle.
Romeo and Juliet.
Orpheus, or the Holy Grail.
The triumph of good over evil.
I don’t have prizes to offer, but if you have a book to promote, I’ll gladly give it a mention next week.
The real skill, of course, is making each version of one of the seven into something different. But that’s a whole other blog post.
PS Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends, and anyone else who happens to be reading. I’m really, really, really glad I wasn’t in the traffic chaos our TV news showed last night, as most of America, it seemed, were heading out for the holiday weekend.