There is an evil force threatening the hero of the story. It threatens their world. It threatens mankind. The hero must grow their skills and resources in the face of this adversity. Then, at some stage when they are strong enough, the hero must fight and destroy the terrible threatening monster. It certainly won't be easy and the odds will be staked against the hero. At some stage it will appear that this is an impossible fight to win - but eventually the hero will be triumphant. The evil will be overcome and the rewards will be huge.
This is an example of a 'meta-plot'. Humans have been telling stories for a very long time and we use the same basic plot-lines to do this. Characters, scenes, tools and endings are different but the basic plots stay the same. We tell these stories to help convey meaning, to learn and to entertain.
As a creative designer I'm interested in how to swiftly create meaning in an audiences mind through the work I do. These meta plot-lines, uncovered by Christopher Booker in his book 'The Seven Basic Plots', fascinate me. What can designers and brands learn from these powerful 'meaning generating' stories-lines which they could use to convey deep meaning in their work?
Introduction to 'overcoming the monster'
The main character is forced to overcome and destroy an evil monster (this could also be a system, person or circumstance) which threatens them or their world. After the monster is removed order is restored. Not only this but the main character has become well respected.
Examples of overcoming the monster
David and Goliath - the biblical story of a young shepherd boy who fights a champions duel with a seasoned warrior giant, Goliath. It looks an impossible fight to win. However, through Gods help David uses a sling shot and kills Goliath before he has a chance to use his sword. Through this victory David wins a war for his people of Israel and their enemies the Philistines flee. The evil is overcome.
Star Wars - the evil emperor, a fearful leader (Darth Vader) with their weapon (the death star) which destroys whole planets in a blink of an eye. It looks an impossible fight to win. This is a typical 'overcoming the monster' plot line as Luke Skywalker grows in skill to eventually take down the dark side. The evil is overcome.
The War of the Worlds - in this story by H. G. Wells, Martians visit earth and start systematically killing and harvesting humans. Their superior strength and technology overpowers the earth. Huge attempts to fight back are unleashed to no avail. It looks an impossible fight to win. In the end it is the tiny germs of earth which kill the Martians and the evil is overcome.
Other examples: Beowulf, Dracula, Day of the Triffids, Jaws, Nicholas Nickleby, Pocahontas, Jack and the Beanstalk, King Kong, Avatar and the James Bond franchise.
Why do we tell 'overcoming the monster' stories?
This plot-line entrances us because it tells us that no matter what challenges we have in our lives we have the hope of overcoming them.
They act to give us the courage to face up to our problems and do difficult tasks. They tell us that the hardships we face now are making us stronger for the future. That we are growing, becoming stronger, more skilful and resilient. It will be all worth it in the end. This story helps us believe we will succeed.
Our human lives are, and will always be, full of challenges of some kind or another. Therefore this plot hooks us in because the meaning it conveys is helpful to us. We have a universal and timeless need for encouragement in the face of our challenges. We can succeed. It will all be worth it.
How can this be used in branding, advertising and creative storytelling?
This plot-line is massively helpful for constructing and telling brand stories.
Think of the obstacles in your audiences lives which you, as a brand, exist to help them overcome. These are the 'monsters' which the hero (your customer) will be able to overcome with your product or service.
If you decide this is a story you wish to tell, consider how you could portray the evil monster? Do you tell the story from the perspective the hero is being helped along the way or maybe you could tell it from the end point when victory has been won.
For personal storytelling think about the biggest challenge in your life. This is your monster. What are you doing to overcome it? Or perhaps you already have and you can complete the story, showing the success your victory has given you.
Hopefully from these examples you can see how this plot-line is incredibly powerful and helpful in telling any kind of story. However you use it remember the key human appeal is to encourage others in their personal challenges. We can succeed. It will all be worth it.