Basic Plots 1: Overcoming the Monster

Introduction

The purpose of choosing a traditional story is to hold a conversation between it and your personal keynote story.  Whether you tell anyone about your traditional story, let alone tell it in public, is your choice but it is not essential.

Just like any conversation, aim to interrogate your own story, experiment with new ideas, and structure your story to emotionally satisfy your audience.  A traditional story that resonates with your story, deepens its impact on your business.

How do you find the right story?  A lot depends on the stories you know. It may take a while to find the right one.  I recommend you seek amongst myths, legends and fairy stories.  Why?  These stories are better known and so offer common ground to your audience. Even where you don’t tell your chosen story, it helps you find a structure that will feel right to your audience.

Another reason to favour traditional stories is they are relatively short.  If you choose a novel, film or TV series, you may find you have far too much material.  Longer works can help and feel free to borrow ideas from them but if you want an overall shape to your story, stay short!

Basic Outline of Any Story

These posts are loosely based on Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots”.  This long work is worth reading to learn more about stories.  Booker does not consider business applications for storytelling or discuss combination with real life plots as I recommend.  His focus is on the stories themselves, where mine is on storytelling.

There is, according to Booker, a 5-stage basic structure to most successful stories.  Not all stories follow this pattern and the seven basic plots each have their own take on it.   Remember this is a model and guide, to help you structure your story.  You do not have to follow every detail.

Overcoming the Monster

Here is the basic 5-stage plot for Overcoming the Monster

  1. The call or anticipation stage establishes a threat from some monster. The hero (male or female), sometimes with companions, set out to defeat the monster.  Sometimes they take special weapons.
  2. The dream stage is where things go well at first and they find their way to the monster’s lair.
  3. The confrontation or frustration stage is where they experience a major setback, often involving capture or discovery the monster is more powerful than they thought.
  4. This leads to the final ordeal or nightmare stage, where the monster unleashes its full power on them or the wider community.
  5. Finally, the miraculous escape stage, where usually something seeded earlier in the story turns up and saves the day at the last minute. The benefits of the victory are briefly mentioned.

This is possibly the most common story type.  It is simple, exciting and everyone is familiar with it.  It is found in almost every genre, eg science fiction, westerns, thrillers, war stories.

Business owners should approach this plot with caution.  Opposing good and evil is not always helpful.  The swashbuckling hero seller of lavatory brushes may be able to pull it off.  But the danger of coming over as an idiot or megalomaniac is real.

However, don’t reject this plot out of hand.  You might not have a monster to fight but your customers might.

External Threat

The monster is an external threat.  If you need a story about struggles within your own psyche, eg with depression or stress, this is probably not the best plot.  External threats turn up out of the blue and they are not your fault.  You or your community are under attack.

In these stories, there is polarisation between good and evil.  There is not much room for nuance.  Real life is not like this, evil is not so easy to identify.  Neither is good!

The monster has several characteristics.  In appearance it is hideous.  If human, it is likely to be deformed.  It is dangerous, can’t be left to its own devices because it will harm you or your people.  It is deceitful and so may first appear to be friendly.  It’s true purpose and abilities are likely to be concealed at first.  And it is mysterious.  Who it is and what it wants is not immediately obvious.  The hero often sets out with little idea what it is they are actually fighting.

David Tennant, when he played Dr Who, in an interview claimed they no longer call them monsters but creatures.  He made the point, just because something looks scary, doesn’t mean it is evil.  If there are other worlds with their own sentient beings, they won’t necessarily be enemies.  That’s true but not relevant to this plot.

Who Benefits?

Don’t forget two main groups benefit from defeating the monster.  First, there is the hero and his or her allies.  They hone their skills and grow in experience to defeat the monster.  Usually, they set off ill-equipped for the task.  They are the best person for the job, however ill-equipped they appear to be.  Sometimes they become more mature.  They show themselves worthy of whatever benefits accrue to them for their victory.

The other beneficiary is the wider community who suffer from the monster and despair of ridding themselves from its terror.  It is easy to forget this dimension to the story because usually the focus is on the hero.  However, it is always important because it is about who is worthy to rule, some monster or someone with proven prowess and character.

Equipment

One aspect easy overlook but relevant to some businesses is equipment.  Think of any James Bond film.  Towards the beginning, Bond receives instructions from M and then meets with Q who provides him with equipment.  Bond often finds some unexpected way to use the devices he is given during the adventure.

Perhaps this is one major application of this plot to business.  Customers often have a problem and need some way to fight it.  You can provide practical help or advice and guidance.

The Monster

The monster often evolves in a specific way.  It starts as a predator, picking off seemingly random people as it follows its plan.  At first this doesn’t make sense but as the monster becomes better-known its activities become easier to understand.

When the hero penetrates the monster’s lair, we see the monster in its second mode, holdfast.  Here we see the monster has accumulated treasure or weapons, as a result of its predatory activities.  This stance is primarily defensive.

Finally, when the heroes have a measure of success, they  provoke the monster into its avenger state.   Here it reveals its true powers and is most dangerous because it is angry.

Defeat

Its defeat comes about through some blind spot, where the monster overlooks something that makes it vulnerable.

Remember this is the plot where the hero defeats monster.  There are stories where the hero converts the monster.  That’s not a problem but it is not an overcoming the monster story!  If you sell equipment for overcoming some problem, customers want something that works.  They will be less attracted by something that enables them to live with the problem.  It depends what you sell.  Competitors might befriend the problem, you deal with it.

Rewards

There are three main rewards the hero receives for overcoming the monster.

The love of a princess (or prince) and their hand in marriage.  Consider what this means.  The relationship is usually either a result of rescuing the beloved from the monster’s holdfast or a reward from the community.  Whatever your take on sexuality, don’t lose sight of the point of this.

Marriage at the end of the story stands for maturity.  Male and female coming together balances both people.  You can experiment with this but reflect on how you feel when the hero and heroine get together, there is something deeper here than simply getting the girl (or boy!).

The two together are often deemed worthy to rule over the kingdom, community or household.  This preoccupies most traditional stories.  What makes a good leader?  It is never solely the male hero’s strength and courage but includes characteristics associated with the feminine, such as seeing the whole picture and flexibility.

The point is not whether some characteristics are male and others female, both sexes exhibit both.  Both are needed to rule a kingdom.  Marriage puts both in charge. Problems start when we over-associate with one or the other.

Finally, they inherit treasure taken from the monster’s holdfast or as a reward for defeating the monster.  They become wealthy and much the same applies to wealth as to political power.  I’ll explore this in more detail next time when I consider rags to riches stories.

From a business perspective, these outcomes may be important as the promise you make to your customers.  Note all are awards for those proved worthy through defeating the monster.  This helps us think about our offers on a deeper level.

Looking Forwards

This is the first of Booker’s seven plot types.  Remember the aim is to help you structure your marketing story in a way that resonates with your market.

Next time we’ll look at a plot that on first glance seems much more relevant to business, the Rags to Riches story.  This is an interesting plot that is a good fit for some businesses but possibly not the ones you might think.  If you think your business is about creating wealth, read the next post to find out whether it is!

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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Basic Plots 2: Rags to Riches - Market Together Blog - July 25, 2018 Reply

[…] are parallels with overcoming the monster but the emphasis is different.  Here the protagonist may overcome several monsters as the story […]

Basic Plots 5: Comedy - Market Together Blog - August 15, 2018 Reply

[…] only a few thousand years old.  I’m not going into a lot of detail, you can find an account in Booker but there are a few things worth […]

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