6 Degrees: The four basic plots

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film


There is much talk of the remakes in Hollywood, and the fact that nothing is new under the sun. Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, but then again, Shakespeare used mostly re-hashed material to fashion together some of the greatest works of literature.

So, there’s a lot of “meat on the bone” when you talk of the simple nature of the most basic of storylines. Here are four of the most widely known:



  1. Man vs Man: Here we find many variations on a theme, as the plots may tend to run together. But some of the greatest stories deal with adversity between two people or two countries. Spartucus is the story of one man’s rebellion against the Roman Empire. Exodus deals with men and women fighting to establish a home for the Jewish people in the Middle East. Shakespeare’s Henry V deals with men battling to establish who will be the rightful King of England.The Poseidon Adven
  2. Man vs Nature: Jack London was a writer who often dealt with this subject. The Call of the Wild and White Fang are two of his works. But in dealing with the basic elements of nature, we find so many great stories. In Hollywood, there was a whole industry around the “disaster” films such as The Poseidon Adventure, where a huge storm overturned a ship. And The Towering Inferno where man had to face the elements to survive.

The Shining3. Man vs Himself; One of the most complex and intriguing storylines deals with the psychological nature of man. In The Shining, the horror of the story turned inward as we saw the main character slowly go mad. In The Lost Weekend and Leaving Las Vegas, we witness the ways that men can slowly “burn out” with alcoholic binges and start to implode. In Shakespeare’s great works, Hamlet and King Lear, the soliloquies provide a passage into the internal workings of the minds of his most famous characters.

Adams Rib

4. Man vs Woman or The Battle of the Sexes: In this, we spot so many things we can identify with in our own lives. This proves true even in past decades where women were not accorded equal rights under the law, but still were able to hold their own against men based on their intelligence and logic. In Adam’s Rib, we see two lawyers, played by Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn, arguing cases on opposite sides and struggling to maintain their marriage.In Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew , the comedy deals with the battle of the sexes. In Elizabethan England, women were not afforded many rights, however, there was one strong example of leadership seen in Queen Elizabeth I. Good Queen Bess was a strong ruler for many years, and Shakespeare would have had this example before him as he was marketing and tailoring much of his work to please her! There are other examples of stories and plot lines, but it seems the most basic plots are at times the best ones to use when delving into the psyche of a human being, or looking at the quiet desperation and isolation of our lives in the 21st Century. The next time you read a good book or watch a movie, take a moment to reflect on whether it follows one of the basic plots used by the masters. Chances are, if it’s a really good work of art, the story will break it down to the basics.


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Author of "6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village", Ms. Johnson continues to blog on film and publishes a newsletter plus the Flipboard magazine 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies. Her book is currently available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

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