Ciao, SEers. Today we’ll be discussing the last of the Seven Basic Plots as defined by Christopher Booker. If you’ve missed the others, you can find them here: Rebirth, Tragedy, Comedy, Voyage and Return, Quest, and Rags to Riches.
Our final basic plot type is: Overcoming the Monster.
When I began this series of posts, I started with Rebirth because it coincided with Easter and Spring (times of… well, rebirth). From there, I worked backward rather than starting at the beginning of Booker’s list. But there’s a reason he started with Overcoming the Monster.
Overcoming the Monster is, in its simplest form, good versus evil or hero versus villain. None of the other trappings matter. This is just black and white—no frills, no complex plot devices. Well, perhaps there is one item to note. The hero is often an underdog to the villain, whatever its form (monster, political regime, corporate entity, etc.).
Here’s a list of well-known stories fitting the “Overcoming the Monster” plot type.
- Jurassic Park/Jurassic World franchises
- James Bond
- Rocky franchise
- Marvel’s MCU
The following is a template for writing an Overcoming the Monster plot. I’ll use Rocky IV as my example.
The hero is made aware of a monster in a far-off land. He may be tasked to defeat the monster by his gods or his government, or he might choose to rise to the occasion on his own.
A new fighter (Ivan Drago) comes to the USA, bent on showing up all American fighters, thus proving himself and his country as the strongest. He kills Apollo Creed in the ring, and Rocky vows to avenge his friend’s death.
This is where the hero begins his journey. The process includes his preparation for battle and his expression of his goals. The monster is usually still far away, but the distance between hero and villain is closing. (Either the monster is closing in, or the hero is on the hunt.)
Rocky travels to the USSR to train for his boxing match. We witness his workouts (training montages are common in this section of the plot). His preparations improve when his wife shows up, and her support makes him believe in himself. The ocean no longer separates him from his opponent, but they haven’t met in battle yet.
The battle begins. The hero and monster are face-to-face on the field of battle. This is where the reader, and the hero, start to doubt the hero’s ability to win. The odds are sorely stacked against him.
The boxing match begins. The crowd is hostile. Rocky is giving it all he has, and he’s not making any headway. In fact, he’s stunned to discover what little impact his efforts have on his opponent. He’s taking a beating unlike any other before.
This is the black moment. The time in the battle when it seems all hope is lost and the future is more than just bleak—it’s the end.
Rocky has been knocked down and thrown around the ring. Nothing he tries has any effect. It looks as though he will suffer the same tragic fate as Apollo.
- Miraculous Escape
The tides turn because of the hero’s efforts, ingenuity, and/or determination. He is able to defeat the monster, and good triumphs over evil. In addition, the hero is often awarded riches or a prize of some sort.
Rocky lands a blow on Drago that causes him to bleed. There’s not a person in the arena—including the two boxers, their staff, and the announcers—who isn’t surprised by the turn of events. This minor victory spurs Rocky’s determination. He continues to battle for ten more rounds, during which even the crowd begins to cheer for him. The combination of his determination, strength, and heart enable him to win by knocking out his opponent (even the government officials applaud Rocky). Drago is not only physically defeated in the ring, his spirit is, as well. He doesn’t box in the US again. Meanwhile, Rocky’s battle gives him a platform to make a political speech, saying (huge paraphrasing here) the two of them battling in the ring is far preferable to the two countries battling in war. He returns home a hero. (The events of Rocky V have no bearing here, as this is the plot of the fourth installment only. When it ends, the reader/viewer is left with the impression that all is well in Rocky’s life.)
Overcoming the Monster might be the simplest of plots to understand, and the most often used. But its popularity doesn’t mean you should avoid attempting such a story. It’s common for a reason—it’s tried-and-true.
What about you? Have you written an Overcoming the Monster story? Do you have a favorite you like to read or watch? Let’s discuss it.