Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’

Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’

Aristotle is one of the most well-known philosophers.

He is also recognised as one of the earliest to set out rules governing narrative structure (i.e. storytelling).

At the time, poetry was immensely popular in Greece and Aristotle became interested in what made certain poems more popular than others. He decided to break down the most liked poems into their constituent parts to work out what made them so appealing.

His research was then compiled into a text called Poetics which researchers believe dates from around 330 BC. It’s worth noting that Aristotle’s definition of ‘poetry’ was very broad and included epic poems, comedy, tragedy and even some types of music.

Most influential on Western literary theory were his conclusions about what makes a good tragedy. Aristotle outlined six essential elements which he placed in order of importance: plot, character, thought, diction, song and spectacle.

Our focus here is on the first two.

According to the great philosopher, the plot represents the ‘soul’ of any tragedy and must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should also be universal in significance (i.e. a theme recognised by all) and contain elements of surprise and suffering.

When it comes to character, the hero should be four things. He must be good, he must be honourable, and he must be ‘true to life’. Finally, he must act in a consistent manner.

Take a moment to reflect on some of the most famous stories of all time. Isn’t it interesting how they all seem to conform to these Aristotelian observations?


Show, don't tell

Show, don't tell

The Six Universal Emotions

The Six Universal Emotions