7 types of stories: Rags to Riches

Tumbling Roman coins

The "Rags to Riches" plot is one of the classic story archetypes identified by British author Christopher Booker in his book "The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories." In "Rags to Riches" stories, the protagonist begins in a lowly state and achieves a significant transformation through a series of events, often involving wealth, status, or power.

This plot structure has a strong wish-fulfillment component, appealing to the universal desire to improve one's station in life and to be recognized for one's inherent worth and abilities. It can be seen in classic literature, fairy tales, and is a staple of modern-day media, including films and television shows.

Common tropes and elements

  1. Humble Beginnings: The protagonist starts off in a position of poverty, social deprivation, or obscurity. Their initial circumstances are often marked by hardship, neglect, or the disdain of others.
  2. Hidden Talents or Qualities: Despite their disadvantaged start, the protagonist possesses some special qualities or talents that are not recognized by others in the beginning. This might be intelligence, kindness, or a specific skill.
  3. The Opportunity: The hero is given an opportunity to escape their circumstances. This might come in the form of a challenge, an invitation, a stroke of luck, or the intervention of a mentor figure.
  4. Rise in Fortunes: As the story progresses, the protagonist's situation improves. This could be due to their own hard work, a fortuitous event, or the influence of a supporter or benefactor.
  5. Obstacles and Setbacks: The path from rags to riches is rarely smooth. The protagonist often faces setbacks, obstacles, or antagonists that threaten their ascent.
  6. Climactic Success: The protagonist achieves significant success that elevates them far above their beginnings. This could be wealth, power, recognition, or achieving a significant goal.
  7. Transformation: The hero undergoes a personal transformation that accompanies their change in circumstances. This could be a change in values, self-identity, or behavior.
  8. Reactions of Others: The protagonist's success often changes the way others perceive and react to them. Old friends may become envious or supportive, while skeptics and detractors are forced to acknowledge the protagonist's success.
  9. Moral Lessons: Many rags to riches stories carry a moral lesson about the value of hard work, virtue, kindness, persistence, or other qualities that contribute to the protagonist's success.
  10. The Threat of Loss: In some variations, the protagonist's newfound status is threatened, forcing them to confront the possibility of losing everything they have gained.
  11. Final Resolution: The story concludes with the protagonist firmly established in their new status, having overcome the final hurdles, or with a realization of what they truly value if the material success is lost or found wanting.

Example stories to draw inspiration from

This plot type is common in drama and romance genres.

  1. "Cinderella": Perhaps the most classic example, this fairy tale tells the story of a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that suddenly change to remarkable fortune when she marries a prince.
  2. "Aladdin" from "One Thousand and One Nights": Aladdin is a poor youth who gains wealth, power, and the hand of a princess with the help of a genie from a magic lamp.
  3. "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens: This novel follows the life of David Copperfield from a troubled childhood through to discovering his talents as a writer, ultimately achieving fame and success.
  4. "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens: The protagonist, Pip, rises from a poor orphan to a gentleman under the patronage of a mysterious benefactor.
  5. "The Pursuit of Happyness": Based on a true story, this film depicts Chris Gardner's nearly one-year struggle with homelessness while raising his son and pursuing an unpaid internship as a stockbroker.
  6. "Slumdog Millionaire": A movie about an 18-year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who goes on to win a staggering amount on India's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" game show.
  7. "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë: This novel tells the tale of an orphan girl who, through various hardships, becomes a governess and eventually marries well, finding both love and a secure future.
  8. "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens: This novel follows the journey of an orphan, Oliver, who is born in poverty and raised in a workhouse. After running away to London, he encounters various adversities but eventually finds a better life when his true heritage is discovered, and he is welcomed into a loving family of means. Oliver's story is a classic "rags to riches" tale set against the backdrop of Victorian England's societal struggles.