The Story of Storytelling

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EASTENDERS: THE STORY OF STORYTELLING

Using Christopher Booker’s theory that there are Seven Basic Plots, analyse and assess the historical storytelling traits in a three month period of Eastenders. To what extent does the soap opera fuse classical and historical storytelling with modern technique and ideology?

Introduction

As Yusuf Kahn stands alone, in a burning building, before plunging into the fiery depths bellow him, you would forgive people for thinking they are watching a Greek Myth or Biblical Legend. But instead, they are watching a serial drama, a piece of modern realism: the Boxing Day episode of Britain’s favourite soap opera – EastEnders.

Christopher Booker in his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories, concludes that there are seven basic plot structures that have dominated both ancient and modern storytelling (epic poetry, stories, scripture, screen and theatre) and that every story can be placed into one of these categories. He concludes these to be: Overcoming the Monster; Rags to Riches; The Quest; Voyage and Return; Comedy; Tragedy; and Rebirth. Each of these have specific structures that link stories told thousands of years apart, in varying form, for example the Nordic legend Beowulf and the Hollywood blockbuster Jaws, share not only a similar storyline but exactly the same dramatic structure. It seems highly appropriate as such to analyse this theory against a modern way of classical storytelling - soap opera – a model which requires fresh stories to keep an ongoing series entertaining, relevant and interesting. Eastenders is a perfect model for such analysis. Here, individual episodes with their own story, link together to form larger story arcs for individual characters. As such, this thesis will test Booker’s theory against EastEnders, analysing the historical storytelling traits, in an ultra modern storytelling medium.

In order to do this, it is necessary to study three months (December 2011-February 2012) of EastEnders, locating each storyline, tracking its history and development, and then analysing it against Booker’s model, along with classical examples (from literature, drama and screen) of each plot structure.

Thus the first chapter of this dissertation will apply Booker’s plots to EastEnders, testing the accuracy of Booker’s theory and discussing the reasons as to why the plot model is kept intact or changed.

Yet, Booker’s model is only half the story. In order to understand how EastEnders fuses classical and historical storytelling with modern technique and ideology, we need to study the culmination of Booker’s stories as a piece of Television. As such, the second chapter will, through analysing the Christmas Day episode, explore the notion that EastEnders takes classical and traditional storytelling devices and fuses it with modern realism, in order to create a piece of classical storytelling that is evolutionary and socially relevant. Through analysing setting, style, audience, and interactive viewing nature, I aim to show how EastEnders is the 21st British equivalent to fable and folktale: the television replacing the camp fire for the setting in which our culture uses story to explore contemporaneous society, psychology and the human condition.

Definitions
Classical and Historical Storytelling techniques: traits, similarities, structures, characters and styles of historic literature, drama, scripture, film and television. Such as the antithesis of good and evil, The Five Act Structure and Bookers Seven Plot Structures. Modern technique and ideology: contemporary dramatic and literary style, such as realism and naturalism.

Overcoming the Monster
The plot of ‘Overcoming the Monster’ is the most common in storytelling. From: Beowulf to Jaws; The Epic of Gilgamesh (“The oldest story told”) to James Bond; and David and Goliath to Frankenstein, the struggle to overcome the other has been ever present in society (east and west). Not only has the...
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