Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Plot Archetypes: Overcoming the Monster

It doesn’t have to be a literal monster, but it helps

Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Welcome to the first post in our plot archetypes series! Today we’ll talk about the archetype Overcoming the Monster. This can be a physical monster, like your classic epics such as Beowulf, or it can be more metaphysical like taking on your own health, government, or a corrupt corporation.

What is it?

Overcoming the monster is the archetype of, well, overcoming the monster. Super helpful, right? There are many ways to define the monster for this plot. It can be a physical monster that needs to be killed or captured for the safety of the people, or it could be overthrowing a tyrannical government for the good of the people, or it could be the hero versus self to overcome struggles they have with themselves, such as a serious health problem or addiction. 

What’s different about this plot style is how black and white it is. This is purely a plot that is about good versus evil. Let’s take the self-journey, for example: the addiction that the hero needs to overcome is the evil, and the hero themselves is the good by trying to break this addiction. Even though it’s self-contained within one person, it’s still good and evil. 

How do you write an overcoming the monster plot?

So what all goes into writing a plot of overcoming the monster? There are five stages that you must hit in order to make it successful. 

Inciting incident: This is when the hero and the reader are introduced to the issue of the monster—there’s been some sort of attack on a village and the hero either decides on their own or is tasked by a ruler (either a village elder or royalty/president) to get rid of the monster.

Dream: This is where your hero is preparing to fight the monster, the dream of victory, and the riches and adulation they’ll receive spurring them on. Your hero might even have a victorious brush with the monster and think that this will be an easier task than they initially thought.

Frustration: The real battle begins in this stage. The hero and the monster go head to head and the hero will find this harder than anticipated, especially if they’ve already had a victorious brush in the dream stage. The hero will also start to doubt that they can defeat the monster.

Nightmare/Hope is lost: This is the bleakest stage for our hero. This is where they now believe that there’s no hope and they’ll fail in their mission to defeat the monster. 

Escape/Victory: Wait, the tides of war have turned! Your hero will escape certain death they thought they’d encountered in the previous stage when all hope was lost and they overcome the monster by killing it. As the resolution comes into play, our hero will get their promised riches or, as some of the older stories go, the girl.


So where can you find plots that involve overcoming the monster? Well, there are several different examples that we can give, so we’ll break them down into book and movie sections and give an example for each. 


Beowulf is one of the most classic examples of overcoming the monster—or, at the very least, one we were all made to read in our freshman English class. It also incorporates other plot archetypes like voyage and return (surprise, you can sometimes have more than one!), so you’ll likely see this example pop up again in another one of our posts for this series. In Beowulf, Beowulf sets out to defeat Grendel after hearing of Hrothgar’s plight and does so by ripping off his arm. After that, he’s rewarded richly by Hrothgar and then defeats Grendel’s mother, where he is also rewarded again before he returns home (this is where the voyage and return comes into play). 


The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is littered with overcoming the monster and other hero’s journey affiliated plotlines. You could write an entire year’s worth of blog posts going over the ways that the MCU covers overcoming the monster, (Spoilers ahead, but come on, it’s been out for over a year, so if you haven’t seen it, that’s on you) but I’ll only talk about the most recent iteration of it: the Avengers defeating Thanos. This fight takes place over the course of two movies Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. In these, the Avengers must defeat Thanos and save the world from losing half of its population. We’ve heard of Thanos a couple of times before, but he doesn’t become a true issue to Earth until Infinity War. By the end of the first movie, we’ve seen our heroes succeed against parts of the monster (the dream stage) and then we get a touch of the nightmare stage at the end of the movie when Thanos snaps his fingers. In the next movie, we sit in the nightmare stage for the majority of the movie as the Avengers take one more last-ditch effort by collecting infinity stones from the past. Then, only with the fall of one of the heroes do the rest of them succeed. Unlike other overcoming the monster stories, the reward for defeating the monster isn’t riches untold, it’s the resumption of normal life and getting their loved ones back. 

Join us next week for an author interview with A4A author and founder B. C. Marine to talk about her upcoming book, The Allurist’s Son, book two in her Meriverian Trilogy, and in two weeks the latest installment of our Misused Advice series where we talk about writing what you know, and in three weeks we’ll resume this series to talk about quests and voyage and return archetypes. 

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