For many years I tried to write the Great American Novel. I read numerous books on “story,” and I studied and analyzed the plots and storylines of hundreds of books and movies. After a while, practically nothing seemed original. Almost every book and movie seemed a rip-off of another book or movie. Sometimes there are composite rip-offs, when a book or movie is comprised of various themes and elements from multiple books and/or movies.
According to Wikipedia: “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories is a 2004 book by Christopher Booker containing a Jung-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning. Booker worked on the book for 34 years.
“The meta-plot begins with the anticipation stage, in which the hero is called to the adventure to come. This is followed by a dream stage, in which the adventure begins, the hero has some success, and has an illusion of invincibility. However, this is then followed by a frustration stage, in which the hero has his first confrontation with the enemy...This worsens in the nightmare stage...where hope is apparently lost. Finally, in the resolution, the hero overcomes his burden....”
According to Booker, there are seven basic plots. The first is “Overcoming the monster,” in which “the protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland.” Examples: Beowulf, The War of the Worlds, Jaws, Star Wars.
The second plot is “Rags to riches,” in which “the poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.” Examples: Cinderella, Aladdin, A Little Princess, Great Expectations.
The third plot is “The quest,” in which “the protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.” Examples: The Iliad, The Lord Of The Rings, King Solomon’s Mines, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The fourth plot is “Voyage and return,” in which “the protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to that location, they return with experience.” Examples: The Odyssey, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Hobbit, Gulliver’s Travels, Peter Pan.
The fifth plot is “Comedy,” defined as “Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.” Examples: Bridget Jones’s Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Big Lebowski.
The sixth plot is “Tragedy,” in which “the protagonist is a hero with a major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally good character.” Examples: Anna Karenina, Romeo and Juliet, Hamilton, The Great Gatsby.
The seventh plot is “Rebirth,” in which “an event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better individual.” Examples: The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Groundhog Day.
During the COVID lockdown last year, I started binge-watching “Reality TV.” I am currently (as I write this column) watching Season 3 of Storage Wars: Texas.
I noticed in the credits that there is a Story Producer. Apparently, that’s the person who created the shows’ storylines — all of which conform with Booker’s classic meta-plot.
Each episode of Storage Wars or Storage Wars: Texas typically begins with a buyer (or buyers) inside a car or truck driving to a storage locker auction. This is “the anticipation stage, in which the hero is called to the adventure....”
Next, the buyer will outbid the competition and buy a storage locker. This is the “dream stage, in which...the hero has some success, and has an illusion of invincibility.”
Next, another buyer will come forward and outbid them. This is the “frustration stage, in which the hero has his first confrontation with the enemy, and the illusion of invincibility is lost.”
Next, the buyer sorts through the locker and, finding nothing of great value, they despair. This is “the nightmare stage, which is the climax of the plot, where hope is apparently lost.”
Finally, the buyer finds something in the locker that potentially has value. They take it to an expert for an appraisal, and discover it’s sufficiently valuable to earn them a profit. This is “the resolution, the hero overcomes his burden against the odds.”
Each episode of Storage Wars or Storage Wars: Texas typically contains at least a few of Christopher Booker’s seven basic plots. Quite often, a “monster” bidder appears at the auction. This might be a new buyer, or it might be a regular buyer who is cast as the antagonist in that particular episode. Hence we see (#1) “Overcoming the monster.”
Storage Wars and Storage Wars: Texas are all about (#2) “Rags to riches.” A buyer can find “a treasure” worth $50,000, making them suddenly wealthy.
The buyers are always on a (#3) “Quest” to find treasure. Their quest typically involves a (#4) “Voyage and return.” Most episodes contain elements of (#5) “Comedy.”
Most episodes also contain elements of (#6) “Tragedy.” For example, a buyer might get caught up in a bidding war, pay too much for a locker, and get stuck with a locker full of junk. That experience might result in a (#7) “Rebirth,” in which the buyer becomes a better person — less greedy and impulsive, perhaps.
Clearly, these “reality” shows are cleverly structured and scripted. Unfortunately, the fiction doesn’t stop there.
In Tuko (1/7/2021), “Storage Wars cast net worth 2021: Who is the richest?” Simon Ayub reports: “Yes, they (the buyers) are paid. However, all cast members do not receive the same remuneration. Compensation per episode of Storage Wars ranges from $15,000 to $25,000.
“According to celebritynetworth.com, Barry Weiss’ net worth is $10 million...
“Nabila Haniss...is an American entrepreneur and television personality with an estimated net worth of $10 million.
“Darrell Sheets’ net worth is estimated to be $4.5 million....”
“Dave Hester is the CEO of Dave Hester Auctions...has an estimated net worth of $4 million.”
No wonder they often overpay for storage lockers. They’re making $15,000 to $25,000 per episode, even if they buy a locker full of junk. I feel sorry for the real buyers at the auctions, who can’t outbid the well-paid multimillionaire TV stars.
In Looper (4/21/2021), “The Real Reason Why Dave Hester Was Fired From Storage Wars,” Joey Reams reports: “Hester, otherwise known as ‘The Mogul,’ filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Superior Court against A&E and Original Production, claiming everything about the show was staged.
“The truth is that Defendants regularly salt or plant the storage lockers...with valuable or unusual items to create drama and suspense for the show,” read the complaint. “Defendants have even gone so far as to stage entire storage units and will enlist the cooperation of the owners of the storage facilities to stage entire units.”
Why would anyone abandon $50,000 worth of jewelry or a fortune in fine art in a storage locker? If it seems too good to be true—
Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.