Rags to riches - Storytelling plot 2/7


An ordinary insignificant person. Usually an orphan. Usually dressed in rags. A humble little figure of a human, ignored and dejected. They are somehow maltreated and regarded by those around as being of little worth. This tiny person suddenly comes centre stage. They have to go out into the world to face adventures. In the course of the story it is dramatically shown that they are not actually "normal" at all. They have been hiding extraordinary talent. Given the chance to shine through the circumstances they find themselves in they go on to do amazing things. However just when all is going to plan things go wrong and they have to use their talents to overcome these challenges. Eventually they emerge from the shadows of obscurity into dazzling splendour. They receive great riches and the girl or guy of their dreams They are transformed.

Meta Plots

This is an example of a 'meta-plot'. And this one is perhaps the most cheesiest of all! Humans have been telling stories for a very long time and we use the same basic plot-lines to do this. Characters, scenes, tools and endings are different but the basic plots stay the same. We tell these stories to help convey meaning, to learn and to entertain.



​​​​​​As a creative designer I'm interested in how to swiftly create meaning in an audiences mind through the work I do. These meta plot-lines, uncovered by Christopher Booker in his book 'The Seven Basic Plots', fascinate me. What can designers and brands learn from these powerful 'meaning generating' stories-lines which they could use to convey deep meaning in their work?

Introduction to 'rags to riches'

The main character begins the story in a wretched and destitute state, severely lacking in some aspect of their lives. As the story goes on, they have some initial successes, gaining and acquiring things which improves their situation. At some point however, they face crisis and lose everything they have gained so far. They then pull themselves back up and recover everything they lost. In this process they grow as a person and can focus on what is important in life (usually not the riches).

Examples of rags to riches

The Biblical story of Joseph - A boy who is despised by his eleven brothers eventually is hated so much by them that they fake his death and they sell him to be a slave in Egypt. There, through God's help he goes from being a slave to becoming next in position to Pharaoh so that when a great famine comes over the land he can save his family.

King Arthur - An ordinary squire accompanies his master to London. The occasion is the discussion and ceremony around appointing a new King. A mysterious stone with a sword in it has appeared and rumour has it that whoever pulls out the sword will be the rightful king. All the warriors of the land try. Mysteriously the obscure squire tries and pulls it out effortlessly. He is the rightful King.He is king Arthur and goes on to be the greatest king England has ever known.


Clarke Kent transforms into Superman - Credit DC Comics

Superman - Clarke Kent. A normal, glasses wearing journalist secretly is an all powerful alien who just looks like a human. When needed he tears off his normal cloths and transforms into a superhero. He flys off to right the wrongs of the world. Due to his heroic acts he gets to be with Lois Lane, the woman of his dreams.