Elderspeak: Babytalk Directed at Older Adults

Source: http://changingaging.org/blog/elderspeak-babytalk-directed-at-older-adults/

About a year after I started volunteering at a skilled nursing home, I observed a set of new teenaged volunteers who came to help with a craft at the monthly meeting of the Red Hat Society.  I heard several of the volunteers speak slowly and loudly, using a sing-song voice.  In response, I saw many of the residents roll their eyes.

Unfortunately, I had flashbacks to when I also first started as a volunteer.   I altered my speech inappropriately as well, hoping to be supportive but coming off as patronizing instead.

I have since learned to identify the features of elderspeak.  More importantly, I’ve learned to change my attitude.   At its core, elderspeak communicates a condescending attitude.  And from that attitude the person’s language might demonstrate the following features of elderspeak:
  •  Speaking slowly
  •  Speaking loudly
  • Using a sing-song voice
  • Inflecting statements to sound like a question
  • Using the pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our” in place of “you.”: “How are we doing today?”
  • Using pet names such as “sweetheart,” “dearie,” or “honey”
  • Shortening sentences
  • Simplifying syntax (sentence structure)
  • Simplifying vocabulary
  • Repeating statements or questions
  • Answering questions for the older adult: “You would like your lunch now, wouldn’t you?”
  • In other ways talking for the older adult: “You are having a good time on the patio today, I see. And you have your pink sweater on, which you love. Right?”
  • Asking people questions that assume role loss, idleness and powerlessness such as “Who did you used to be?” “What did you used to do?”

Even though this list describes various ways in which people sometimes alter their speech when talking to older adults, a couple of misperceptions generate the communication problem:

  • Elderspeak assumes that the older adult is dependent, frail, weak, incompetent, childlike, etc.
  • Elderspeak assumes that the speaker has greater control, power, value, wisdom, knowledge, etc than the older adult listening.
  • Elderspeak assumes that all older adults equally suffer from memory problems, hearing problems, energy problems, etc.

Public health experts have found that when older adults are exposed to the patronizing language of elderspeak, their performance on tasks decreases and their rates of depression increase.  Other studies show that even people with moderate to severe dementia can tell when people are talking down to them, and it decreases their level of co-operation.

I have witnessed this myself.   One of the residents, who was a retired nurse struggling with dementia, was trying to care for another resident.  The activity director and two certified  nurse assistants tried to redirect her away from her neighbor’s apartment.   The employees were using dulcet tones with her, and she quickly replied: “Don’t you get all sweet on me. I won’t be treated this way!”   People of all levels of cognition preserve the ability to read tone.Managing nurses might consider providing training on how to transform elderspeak into more effective acts of communication. As the percentage of older adults increases in the US, the need for communicating effectively will be more apparent in many fields, not just health care. 2000 US Census data shows that Americans aged 65+ outnumber the combined populations of London, Moscow, and New York.
About a year before I started my gerontology program, I had the privilege to meet a friend’s nonagenarian mother who had traveled to Wichita from western Kansas.  I unwisely raised my voice and spoke slowly to her: “HOW. ARE. YOU. TODAY?”  She shot back a very energetic, rapid-fire reply, putting me in my place. Since that day, I assume that older adults have full hearing and full cognition when I first address them.   If their reply indicates otherwise, then I make moderate adjustments, but I still address them as independent, empowered individuals.
Have you caught yourself using elderspeak?  Has anyone ever talked down to you before?  How is this problem parallel for second language speakers or those managing a disability?  Can you think of any other features of elderspeak? 
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Descriptive Essay

Structuring a Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay simply describes something or someone by appealing to the reader’s senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Here are the basic steps to writing an effective descriptive essay:
1. Select a subject

Observation is the key to writing a good description. For example, if you are writing about a place, go there and take notes on the sights, sounds, and smells. A descriptive essay paints a picture for the reader, using descriptive devices and the senses. Create a thesis statement that informs the reader who or what you are describing. Examples: “The wooden roller coaster in Coney Island is a work of art.” “My bedroom is an ocean sanctuary.”

2. Select dominant details
Select only the details that support the dominant impression (your thesis statement).

3. Organize details
The paragraphs in a descriptive essay can be structured spatially (from top to bottom or from near to far) or chronologically (time order) or from general to specific. Descriptive essays can also use other patterns of organization such as narrative or exemplification.

4. Use descriptive words
Do not use vague words or generalities (such as good, nice, bad, or beautiful). Be specific and use sensory, descriptive words (adjectives). For example:
I ate a good dinner.
OR
I devoured a steaming hot, cheese-filled pepperoni pizza for dinner.

Provide sensory details:

  • Smells that are in the air (the aroma of freshly brewed coffee)
  • Sounds (traffic, honking horns)
  • Sights (“The sun scattered tiny diamonds across dew-covered grass as it peeked out from beyond the horizon.”)
  • Touch (“The texture of the adobe hut’s walls resembled coarse sandpaper.”)
  • Taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, tart (“Giant goose bumps formed on my tongue when I accidentally bit into a sliver of lemon.”)

5. Draw a logical conclusion
The conclusion may also use descriptive words; however, make certain the conclusion is logical and relevant.

Create images for the reader!

Figurative Language

Figures of speech are imaginative comparisons between two basically dissimilar things. A figure of speech may enliven a description by making the essay more visual or forceful.
Here are some of the more common figures of speech that could prove effective in writing descriptive essays:


Simile                                        Using the words such as “like” or “as” when comparing.
Example: A ride to North Hutchinson Island is like a flight to a Caribbean getaway.


Metaphor                                        Implying a comparison between two things that are essentially different.
Example: Stalking their prey, the deputies remained hidden in the bushes and ready to spring on speeding motorists.


Personification                                        Giving human characteristics to inanimate objects.
Example: The truck, covered with mud and love bugs, cried out for a wash.


Overstatement or Hyperbole                                        Using a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect.
Example: I’ll die if I don’t pass this exam.


Understatement                                        Writing something opposite to what is expected or says something less than expected.
Example: Yesterday was a little cool. The high temperature was zero degrees.


Sound words or Onomatopoeia                                        Using words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions to which they refer.
Example: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” (slogan of Alka Seltzer)


Symbol                                        A person, place, or thing that represents an abstract idea or concept.
Example: A rock is a symbol of strength

Description Sample

Description Sample

Description Sample

The Language of Advertising Claims

by Jeffrey Schrank

In the essay that follows, Jeffrey Schrank gives a list of the techniques advertisers employ to make claims for their products. Written by a teacher, this selection should serve as a tool: its classification of advertisers’ promises and claims can be used to analyze and evaluate the fairness of the language in many ads. As you read it, consider additional ad claims that fit within each of Schrank’s categories.

Students, and many teachers, are notorious believers in their immunity to advertising. These naive inhabitants of consumerland believe that advertising is childish, dumb, a bunch of lies, and influences only the vast hordes of the less sophisticated. Their own purchases are made purely on the basis of value and desire, with advertising playing only a minor supporting role. They know about Vance Packard and his “hidden persuaders” and the adwriter’s psychosell and bag of persuasive magic. They are not impressed.

Advertisers know better. Although few people admit to being greatly influenced by ads, surveys and sales figures show that a well-designed advertising campaign has dramatic effects. A logical conclusion is that advertising works below the level of conscious awareness and it works even on those who claim immunity to its message. Ads are designed to have an effect while being laughed at, belittled, and all but ignored.

A person unaware of advertising’s claim on him or her is precisely the one most defenseless against the adwriter’s attack. Advertisers delight in an audience which believes ads to be harmless nonsense, for such an audience is rendered defenseless by its belief that there is no attack taking place. The purpose of a classroom study of advertising is to raise the level of awareness about the persuasive techniques used in ads. One way to do this is to analyze ads in microscopic detail. Ads can be studied to detect their psychological hooks, they can be used to gauge values and hidden desires of the common person, they can be studied for their use of symbols, color, and imagery. But perhaps the simplest and most direct way to study ads is through an analysis of the language of the advertising claim. The “claim” is the verbal or print part of an ad that makes some claim of superiority for the product being advertised. After studying claims, students should be able to recognize those that are misleading and accept as useful information those that are true. A few of these claims are downright lies, some are honest statements about a truly superior product, but most fit into the category of neither bold lies nor helpful consumer information. They balance on the narrow line between truth and falsehood by a careful choice of words.

The reason so many ad claims fall into this category of pseudo-information is that they are applied to parity products, products in which all or most of the brands available are nearly identical. Since no one superior product exists, advertising is used to create the illusion of superiority. The largest advertising budgets are devoted to parity products such as gasoline, cigarettes, beer and soft drinks, soaps, and various headache and cold remedies.

The first rule of parity involves the Alice in Wonderlandish use of the words “better” and “best.” In parity claims, “better” means “best” and “best” means “equal to.” If all the brands are identical, they must all be equally good, the legal minds have decided. So “best” means that the product is as good as the other superior products in its category. When Bing Crosby declares Minute Maid Orange Juice “the best there is” he means it is as good as the other orange juices you can buy.

The word “better” has been legally interpreted to be a comparative and therefore becomes a clear claim of superiority. Bing could not have said that Minute Maid is “better than any other orange juice.” “Better” is a claim of superiority. The only time “better” can be used is when a product does indeed have superiority over other products in its category or when the better is used to compare the product with something other than competing brands. An orange juice could therefore claim to be “better than a vitamin pill,” or even “the better breakfast drink.”

The second rule of advertising claims is simply that if any product is truly superior, the ad will say so very clearly and will offer some kind of convincing evidence of the superiority. If an ad hedges the least bit about a product’s advantage over the competition you can strongly suspect it is not superior–may be equal to but not better. You will never hear a gasoline company say “we will give you four miles per gallon more in your care than any other brand.” They would love to make such a claim, but it would not be true. Gasoline is a parity product, and, in spite of some very clever and deceptive ads of a few years ago, no one has yet claimed one brand of gasoline better than any other brand.

To create the necessary illusion of superiority, advertisers usually resort to one or more of the following ten basic techniques. Each is common and easy to identify.

1. THE WEASEL CLAIM

A weasel word is a modifier that practically negates the claim that follows. The expression “weasel word” is aptly named after the egg-eating habits of weasels. A weasel will suck out the inside of an egg, leaving it appear intact to the casual observer. Upon examination, the egg is discovered to be hollow. Words or claims that appear substantial upon first look but disintegrate into hollow meaninglessness on analysis are weasels. Commonly used weasel words include “helps” (the champion weasel); “like” (used in a comparative sense); “virtual” or “virtually”; “acts” or “works”; “can be”; “up to”; “as much as”; “refreshes”; “comforts”; “tackles”; “fights”; “come on”; “the feel of”; “the look of”; “looks like”; “fortified”; “enriched”; and “strengthened.”

Samples of Weasel Claims

Helps control dandruff symptoms with regular use.” The weasels include “helps control,” and possibly even “symptoms” and “regular use.” The claim is not “stops dandruff.”

“Leaves dishes virtually spotless.” We have seen so many ad claims that we have learned to tune out weasels. You are supposed to think “spotless,” rather than “virtually” spotless.

“Only half the price of many color sets.” “Many” is the weasel. The claim is supposed to give the impression that the set is inexpensive.

“Tests confirm one mouthwash best against mouth odor.”

“Hot Nestlés cocoa is the very best.” Remember the “best” and “better” routine.

“Listerine fights bad breath.” “Fights,” not “stops.”

“Lots of things have changed, but Hershey’s goodness hasn’t.” This claim does not say that Hershey’s chocolate hasn’t changed.

“Bacos, the crispy garnish that tastes just like its name.”

2. THE UNFINISHED CLAIM

The unfinished claim is one in which the ad claims the product is better, or has more of something, but does not finish the comparison.

Samples of Unfinished Claims

“Magnavox gives you more.” More what?

“Anacin: Twice as much of the pain reliever doctors recommend most.” This claim fits in a number of categories but it does not say twice as much of what pain reliever.

“Supergloss does it with more color, more shine, more sizzle, more!”

“Coffee-mate gives coffee more body, more flavor.” Also note that “body” and “flavor” are weasels.

“You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse.” Sure of what?

“Scott makes it better for you.”

“Ford LTD–700% quieter.”

When the FTC asked Ford to substantiate this claim, Ford revealed that they meant the inside of the Ford was 700% quieter than the outside.

3. THE “WE’RE DIFFERENT AND UNIQUE” CLAIM

This kind of claim states that there is nothing else quite like the product being advertised. For example, if Schlitz would add pink food coloring to its beer they could say, “There’s nothing like new pink Schlitz.” The uniqueness claim is supposed to be interpreted by readers as a claim to superiority.

Samples of the “We’re Different and Unique” Claim

“There’s no other mascara like it.”

“Only Doral has this unique filter system.”

“Cougar is like nobody else’s car.”

“Either way, liquid or spray, there’s nothing else like it.”

“If it doesn’t say Goodyear, it can’t be polyglas.” “Polyglas” is a trade name copyrighted by Goodyear. Goodrich or Firestone could make a tire exactly identical to the Goodyear one and yet couldn’t call it “polyglas”–a name for fiberglass belts.

“Only Zenith has chromacolor.” Same as the “polyglas” gambit. Admiral has solarcolor and RCA has accucolor.

4. THE “WATER IS WET” CLAIM

“Water is wet” claims say something about the product that is true for any brand in that product category, (for example, “Schrank’s water is really wet.”) The claim is usually a statement of fact, but not a real advantage over the competition.

Samples of the “Water is Wet” Claim

“Mobil: the Detergent Gasoline.” Any gasoline acts as a cleaning agent.

“Great Lash greatly increases the diameter of every lash.”

“Rheingold, the natural beer.” Made from grains and water as are other beers.

“SKIN smells differently on everyone.” As do many perfumes.

5. THE “SO WHAT” CLAIM

This is the kind of claim to which the careful reader will react by saying “So What?” A claim is made which is true but which gives no real advantage to the product. This is similar to the “water is wet” claim except that it claims an advantage which is not shared by most of the other brands in the product category.

Samples of the “So What” Claim

“Geritol has more than twice the iron of ordinary supplements.” But is twice as much beneficial to the body?

“Campbell’s gives you tasty pieces of chicken and not one but two chicken stocks.” Does the presence of two stocks improve the taste?

“Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.” This deodorant claims says only that the product is aimed at the female market.

6. THE VAGUE CLAIM

The vague claim is simply not clear. This category often overlaps with others. The key to the vague claim is the use of words that are colorful but meaningless, as well as the use of subjective and emotional opinions that defy verification. Most contain weasels.

Samples of the Vague Claim

“Lips have never looked so luscious.” Can you imagine trying to either prove or disprove such a claim?

“Lipsavers are fun–they taste good, smell good and feel good.”

“Its deep rich lather makes hair feel good again.”

“For skin like peaches and cream.”

“The end of meatloaf boredom.”

“Take a bite and you’ll think you’re eating on the Champs Elysées.”

“Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”

“The perfect little portable for all around viewing with all the features of higher priced sets.”

“Fleishman’s makes sensible eating delicious.”

7. THE ENDORSEMENT OR TESTIMONIAL

A celebrity or authority appears in an ad to lend his or her stellar qualities to the product. Sometimes the people will actually claim to use the product, but very often they don’t. There are agencies surviving on providing products with testimonials.

Samples of Endorsements or Testimonials

“Joan Fontaine throws a shot-in-the-dark party and her friends learn a thing or two.”

“Darling, have you discovered Masterpiece? The most exciting men I know are smoking it.” (Eva Gabor)

“Vega is the best handling car in the U.S.” This claim was challenged by the FTC, but GM answered that the claim is only a direct quote from Road and Track magazine.

8. THE SCIENTIFIC OR STATISTICAL CLAIM

This kind of ad uses some sort of scientific proof or experiment, very specific numbers, or an impressive sounding mystery ingredient.

Samples of Scientific or Statistical Claims

“Wonder Break helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” Even the weasel “helps” did not prevent the FTC from demanding this ad be withdrawn. But note that the use of the number 12 makes the claim far more believable than if it were taken out.

“Easy-Off has 33% more cleaning power than another popular brand.” “Another popular brand” often translates as some other kind of oven cleaner sold somewhere. Also the claim does not say Easy-Off works 33% better.

“Special Morning–33% more nutrition.” Also an unfinished claim.

“Certs contains a sparkling drop of Retsyn.”

“ESSO with HTA.”

“Sinarest. Created by a research scientist who actually gets sinus headaches.”

9. THE “COMPLIMENT THE CONSUMER” CLAIM

This kind of claim butters up the consumer by some form of flattery.

Samples of the “Compliment the Consumer” Claim

“We think a cigar smoker is someone special.”

“If what you do is right for you, no matter what others do, then RC Cola is right for you.”

“You pride yourself on your good home cooking….”

“The lady has taste.”

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

10. THE RHETORICAL QUESTION

This technique demands a response from the audience. A question is asked and the viewer or listener is supposed to answer in such a way as to affirm the product’s goodness.

Samples of the Rhetorical Question

“Plymouth–isn’t that the kind of car America wants?”

“Shouldn’t your family be drinking Hawaiian Punch?”

“What do you want most from coffee? That’s what you get most from Hills.”

“Touch of Sweden: could your hands use a small miracle?”

Source: http://home.olemiss.edu/~egjbp/comp/ad-claims.html

Writing an advertisement

The basic dos and don’ts of advertising are fairly straightforward. You do not have to be clever or witty to be effective. Some people running small businesses create great ads.

This briefing explains:
• The elements that make up a good ad.
• The thinking process that leads to success.
• How to write advertising that works.

1. Outline of an ad

Start-up businesses tend to advertise in print – in newspapers, magazines or other publications. Successful print ads are usually written around a few basic elements.

1.1 The headline — a strong statement featuring the major selling point (e..cheaper, faster).
1.2 The illustration (optional) — reinforcing the claim in the headline (e.g showing how your product works).
1.3 The body copy — the main text which persuades the reader to buy your product.
1.4 The tag-line — summing up the product or the company’s philosophy (e.g. ‘Just do it.’)
1.5 The call to action — telling the reader what to do next.
1.6 The company details — name, address, phone number, email and web addresses and logo (if you have one).

Look at the advertising around you.
Decide what sort of ad would work best for your business and what would make the ad stand out.

2. What are you selling?

2.1 Be clear about what you have to offer.
The major selling points of most good small businesses are:

• Specialist or expert.
• Convenient and local.
• Give excellent service.
• Offering value for money.
• Reliable and conscientious.

This is the sort of thing that will make customers want to buy your product — so this is what your ad should be telling them.

2.2 If you have something unique to offer (eg your shop stocks the widest range of scuba gear in the North of England), emphasize it. You will automatically stand out from the competition.

2.3 If your product has no clear advantage, you will need to work hard to present it in
a unique way.
• If you cannot do that, perhaps you should not spend money on advertising.

3. How big and how often?

3.1 The size and style of your ad should depend on the publication it is to appear in.
• For example, a new local shop might place a simple ad in the local paper to let people know the shop is opening.
It should be large enough to stand out, but no more, and it should tell the readers exactly what they need to know — what they are selling, their location, opening date and opening times.

3.2 The type of publication and the cost per ad will dictate how often your ad should run.
• An advert in a local paper might be repeated for several weeks.
• An expensive ad in a monthly magazine might not need so many repeats, especially as many readers tend to keep each issue.
Another major factor will be how often your product or service is purchased.

4 The headline

4.1 The headline is the first thing most readers look at, even before the picture. If it does not grab their attention, through arousing curiosity or making an offer, the ad will fail.

• Make the headline stand out. Use large, bold type.
• Say something of real interest to the reader.
• Make it easily understood.

4.2 Bad headlines are often:
• The company name — it may mean something to you, but will it really grab the reader’s attention?
• The irrelevant joke — which says nothing about the product, and therefore does not attract the right readers.
• The misleading headline — people may read on, but they will be irritated when they find out what you are really offering.

5 The illustration

5.1 Use a good picture to improve your ad. But it will only work if it is relevant — if it reinforces or expands upon the headline.
• If you have nothing to show, do not feel you must have a picture for the sake of it.

5.2 Bear in mind that a good photographer or illustrator can make the dullest items look interesting. Do not assume your product is too unphotogenic to warrant a picture.

5.3 One inexpensive option is using stock shots — library pictures (e.g. photos of fresh food) that can be used for a flat fee. Do not use a poor shot because it is cheap.
• The picture must be in black and white, unless you go for a full-color ad.

6 The body copy

The headline and picture have won the reader’s attention. Now you need some good copy.

6.1 Take the practical example of writing an ad for your ‘extra-sharp kitchen knives’.

• Start by enlarging on what is said in the headline. Just how sharp are these knives?
• Offer facts to support your claims. Why are they so unusually sharp?
• Explain other benefits — e.g. inexpensive.
• Warn readers that they will miss out if they do not buy the product — e.g. there is a special offer for a limited time only.
• Urge readers to find out more, or buy the product. Tell them how and where — e.g. ‘Phone for details’.
• Close with a pay-off line relating back to the benefit in the headline — e.g. ‘So sharp they’ll cut your time in the kitchen’.

6.2 It is essential to get the tone right.
• Readability — the ad should be clear, crisp and concise, and written in plain English.
• Sincerity — the ad must be confident, without seeming shrill.
The best ads appear uncomplicated, but use phrasing their target audiences can relate to.

6.3 Advertisements must be ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’.
• You must be able to back up your claims.

7 Check your advertisement

7.1 You have written a few draft ads, asked people’s opinions, and selected one. Now check it by asking yourself five questions.
• Will the headline — and illustration, if there is one — stop readers in their tracks?
• Is the copy interesting? Does it tell the readers something they want to know?
• Does the advertisement, overall, make the reader an offer or a promise?
• Does it encourage the reader to act? Does it make it clear what to do next?
• Are the special benefits of your product given the emphasis they deserve?

7.2 If you can look at your advertisement with the eyes of a reader — one of your potential customers — and answer ‘Yes’ to all these questions, you have a good ad.

• If not, it may be worth paying a specialist to write it for you, rather than wasting money buying space for an ad that will not bring you in any business.
• Advertising agencies are good at matching the style and content of an ad to the prospective customers for your product.
• If you cannot afford an agency, shop around for a self-employed copywriter and work together to generate ideas for ads.

8 Preparing artwork

8.1 Choose clear typefaces (fonts).
• Use a font that will be easy to read and reflects the image you want to project.
• Use large or bold font to emphasize the important information such as your contact details.
• Avoid mixing too many fonts, using ornate fonts that are difficult to read or excessive use of reversed-out font (white on black).

8.2 Lay out the ad with plenty of white space.
• Avoid clutter and excessive text.

8.3 Produce final artwork.
• Check what format the artwork should be submitted in.
Do you also need to submit a hard copy?
• Provide any images or photographs and make sure they are clearly identified.

8.3 Check a proof copy of the ad before the publication goes to print.
If it is a color ad, make sure you check a color proof.
• Make absolutely sure that the wording, layout, typefaces and the contact details are correct. Once you have signed off the proof, any mistakes are wholly your responsibility.
• Ask yourself if the ad will stand out from the others in the publication, or on the same page or website?
Will it create the right impression? Does it convey the message or impression you want to get across?
• Check that the images are sharp.
• Do not sign the advert off until you are completely happy with it.

Don’t spoil your chances

A Beware of discounts.
• Words like ‘sale’ and ‘discount’ can make your business sound tacky.

B Simplify clutter.
• If you cram in too many words and pictures, readers find ads hard work.

C Avoid jargon and wordiness.
• Obscure words and long sentences put people off. Keep it simple and direct.

D Don’t be boring. No-one wants to plough through a pile of statistics and facts.
• Decide what is important, say it clearly and stop when you have whetted the reader’s appetite.

A GOOD AD

A GOOD AD

A BAD AD

A BAD AD

Writing Inspiration: Seven Types of Plot

Source: http://childrenspublishing.blogspot.com/2010/07/writing-inspiration-seven-basic-plot.html

American journalist Barbara Grizzuri Harrison once said, “There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” I hate to break the news, but maybe she was right. According to one school of thought, every story we’ve ever read, those we may be currently working on, and those yet to be written are all reworks of what are known as the seven basic plot types. Having an understanding of what these plot types are and how they work makes it easier to craft our own stories. While each plot type can be analyzed in much greater depth, read on for an overview of these tried and tested story skeletons.

The Quest:
This plot is self-explanatory. Think LORD OF THE RINGS, MISS RUMPHIUS, and THE LIGHTNING THIEF. In this type of story, a character sets off on a journey of some sort. She has a goal in mind and it is often difficult to reach. She must overcome obstacles and face strong opposition before she can emerge victorious.

Voyage and Return:
In this plot type, the protagonist has endured a quest, and must now return to her previous life. Whether she is returning from a distant land or a magical one, the contrast between life during the journey and the home she once knew reveals a deeper understanding she has attained. Examples would be the WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, and ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Comedy
Christopher Booker said it well in his book THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS: “What we are looking at when confronted by a fully developed Comedy is not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. By the time a jigsaw is complete, it seems obvious that there is only one way it could have ended up, with each piece in its proper place and fitting perfectly together with all the others. In Comedy, the key to bringing this to light is the process of ‘recognition’…” Comedies seem jovial, light, and almost effortless, but a dark force is keeping the hero and heroine apart, which often results in a cascade of additional romantic entanglements keeping more minor characters from finding their own happiness. As the story progresses, the obstacle for the main lovers is removed (a parent or guardian relents, a misunderstanding created by the dark force is cleared up, etc.) and the chain of complications swings into motion the other direction until all the relationships result in happy endings.
This may sound simple enough, but Booker’s description makes it clear that comedies are not so easy to craft, after all. Examples of comedies are MY FRIEND IS SAD, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and AS YOU LIKE IT.

Tragedy
Under this plot scheme, the main character’s own poor decisions or actions bring about her downfall. The result is the evoking of sympathy, pity, and even fear within the reader. Of course for this downfall to be effective, the character must start from a place high enough to fall. Stories such as ROMEO AND JULIET, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, and ANNA KARENINA fit into this category. For children’s literature, the titles are scarce for obvious reasons. Still, it’s an outline worth considering for inspiration, or partial adaptation.

Rebirth
In this type of story, the main character is often imprisoned or finds herself under a spell. This can be a physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental state. It can originate from the MC or an external force. Like the voyage and return structure, the power of rebirth stories comes from the contrast between the imprisoned state and liberation. Examples include SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, THE SECRET GARDEN, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Overcoming the Monster
Dum dum… dum dum… you can almost hear the music to Jaws. The protagonist will eventually face the almighty creature who seems impossible to beat. That creature may take the form of another living being, or an entity. Classics such as HANSEL AND GRETEL, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, andFRANKENSTEIN fit this mold.

Rags to Riches
Finance doesn’t have to enter into this popular plot type. All that’s required is for the protagonist to go from ordinary to exceptional, and the contrast between these two states is what ultimately provides the drama. This type of story can also see the character rise quickly to riches (in whatever form that may be), lose this status, and struggle to regain it by defeating something. Sound familiar? HARRY POTTER, CINDERELLA, and PYGMALION are all classic examples.

With the seven basic plot types in hand, consider where your work fits in. Use the well-known examples to see how other authors have done it. Have you included all the elements and added your own spin?

Your twist and approach are what will make YOUR story fresh, crisp, and like nothing we’ve seen before. The structure may be what provides the foundation, but it’s the concept and details that will make someone else want to read it.

So where does your WIP fit? Or what book have you read recently that jumped out as example of one of the basic plot types? What twist made it feel unique? Do you agree with Booker that there are only seven basic plot types? Or do you side with others who believe there are eleven? What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Happy plotting!