This article will take a in-depth look at Overcoming the Monster and what this plot entails. Overcoming the Monster is one of the most classic and used plots that humankind has invented. What does this plot mean? To be frank, there’s a monster and it is our hero’s job to kill it, defeat it, or imprison it. The actual monster itself can be real, personal, imaginary or the hero itself but for the sake of expediency, we’ll focus on an actual monster.
When people think of monsters, they can come in all shapes and sizes with every power imaginable. If the monster is animal, they usually have human attributes. In this case, they will be vicious on a human level and they will know of taunting and torture and kill not to eat but because they can. If the monster is human, they usually have animal attributes. In that case, they will lose their mind and for some, they will lose their humanity. There is a third kind of monster called like humanoid. Imagine Grendel and his mother from Beowulf. We’re never told exactly what kind of monster they is but he’s big enough to kill men easily and eat anyone who pisses him off and she’s big enough to need to live in a cave and has a sword crafted from giants hanging above her door.
They are definitely other in the case of monsters.
They feel no remorse in killing others (if anything, they feel justified), they are larger than the average person, live in strange places, and they can’t be killed by ordinary means. I would argue that Grendel and his dear old mother are archetypal monsters.
Monsters who follow the Overcoming the Monster style, have but three features. They either are either Predators, Guards, or Avengers. They can be a combination of the two or all three but par the course, they normally only take up one feature. In the case of Grendel, he’s a Predator. He attacks the kingdom because he can and that they constant celebrations annoy him. For his mother, she is an Avenger. Angered that Beowulf has killed her son, she thirsts for vengeance. The dragon on top of the hoard fulfills the second type of monster. He’s fairly lazy compared to previous monsters but it deadly all the same.
So, we’ve got our monsters, now we need our hero!
The hero doesn’t need to be very impressive or strong like Beowulf. Really, the hero just needs to be up to the task. After all, they are dealing the Monster – a creature that kills without fear and so far hasn’t been injured by anyone else. Introducing the hero and the monster can be done in a few ways. You can show the hero as a young child who is a wide-eyed idealist, unaware of the dangers that the world has or you can have them a little more experienced but have them disbelieve in the notion of monsters.
Personally, I like the wide-eyed idealist the most. A character that’s already experienced isn’t as fun and it’s most important to show the character’s growth. Adding onto the fact that a wide-eyed idealist having the star dust knocked out of their eyes can make for a great coming of age novel is just a plus. Of course, that’s just my humble opinion and as always you should write the novel that works for you and that you’re passionate about. Anyways, onward to the plot.
As the plot is Overcoming the Monster, the most important aspect of the plot is the monster and how fearsome he, she, it, they are. If the monster doesn’t send people running for the hills then what is the point and why does it need to be overcome? You’ve got your pick of the type of monster you can have. You can combine, mix and match, and best part describe the monster you want. Is it a traditional fire-breathing dragon? Is it a serial killer? Or is it the hero?
Once you’ve decided on the type of monster and the hero you want, think of the story in stages. Your hero is setting out, life is good, and nothing bad has happened yet. This is the prime time to do some world building. Set everything up for the audience but try not to bog down the story in favor of details. There’s time for that later. Right now, focus on your main character and the world that they live in. Are monsters something that are common? Or Otherwordly? Basically, is this more a Jaws situation or is this more Terminator? Both are monsters but one is from the future and the other is more “natural” but just as deadly.
So, you’ve introduced the monster to your story and now someone has to kill it. If your Main Character is young then any chance of them helping out gets pushed to the side by the hopefully wiser adults who don’t think kids should go out killing creatures even if they are killing people. There are a few ways to remedy that and I’ll give my opinion on each method during a later post. Right now, we need to focus on why it’s the Main Character going after the monster instead of say the police or whatever group there is to protect people from things that go bump in the night. The best way to get your Main Character involved is to make it personal.
Why else would they care about a monster terrorizing the land or killing people unless it directly effects them?
The Main Character’s peaceful world is shaken by the intrusion of the monster and life as they know it will never be the same. Then comes the plan to capture or kill the monster. I’ve seen this stage play out in different ways and I’ve got to say I’m partial to the method that allows the Main Character to see the monster up close and personal. It’s a good way to set up the stakes and to show off the power imbalance between the two. Remember, the villain is a monster and the main character is (usually) a normal person. It’s not like they’ve got a missile hanging out in their garage to take down the guy.
At this point, the Main Character should be feeling way out of their capabilities. The monster is everything that they aren’t. The monster is big, bad, powerful and the Main Character is small, good, but weak. It’s a classic set-up. The Main Character may feel frustrated that the Monster is so powerful and that no one believe them when they try and alert the authorities that there is a monster out there killing people. Whatever the case, the Main Character resolves to defeat the monster and save the day because who else is going to do it but them? The next scenes prepare the Main Character for dealing with the monster by any means necessary or gathering up supplies that they believe will help them on their mission.
The Main Character will then set out to fight the monster. Again, I feel the need to point out that the fight doesn’t have to be purely physical. It can be emotional, spiritual, or mental. The battle is fought, the monster is killed either through the hero’s wits and skills or physical prowess, and the day is saved.
Depending on how you’ve handled the story so far, the Main Character can be celebrated for their heroics or outright ignored. If they’re celebrated, the Main Character will get treasure, a kingdom to rule, and the standard hero reward: the princess. Of course, with modern stories and a modern setting, treasure and kingdoms aren’t standard anymore and the idea of getting the gal or guy of your dreams goes away. They may get some minor recognition from those who know better but for the most part they’ll return to their normal lives forever changed but knowing better and more than they did previously.