There Are Three Main Plots for the Human Interest Story: Boy-Meets-Girl, The Little Tailor, and The Man-Who-Learned-Better

Robert Heinlein? L. Ron Hubbard? Catherine Crook de Camp? L. Sprague de Camp? Brian W. Aldiss? John Brunner? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Robert Heinlein apparently contended that there were only three basic templates for stories. One template was “The Brave Little Tailor”, a German fairy tale about a clever individual who combined luck and intelligence to perform a series of difficult feats, thereby obtaining success and happiness.

Would you please help me to determine the other two types of stories together with a precise citation for Heinlein’s commentary?

Quote Investigator: In 1947 Lloyd Arthur Eshbach published a variegated collection of essays about writing science fiction called “Of Worlds Beyond”. Robert Heinlein contributed a piece titled “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction” in which he initially splits speculative tales into two large groups: gadget stories and human interest stories. Next, he splits the latter group into three categories. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

There are three main plots for the human interest story: boy-meets girl, The Little Tailor, and the man-who-learned-better. Credit the last category to L. Ron Hubbard; I had thought for years that there were but two plots—he pointed out to me the third type.

The 1947 essay was reprinted several times, and the text above was taken from the 1977 collection “Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction” edited by Damon Knight. Below are additional details and selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Three Main Plots for the Human Interest Story: Boy-Meets-Girl, The Little Tailor, and The Man-Who-Learned-Better

Notes:

  1. 1977, Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction, Edited by Damon Knight, On the Writing of Speculative Fiction by Robert A. Heinlein (This article was reprinted from the 1964 Advent edition of the book “Of Worlds Beyond” compiled by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach; this book was first published by Fantasy Press in 1947), Start Page 199, Quote Page 200 and 201, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)