Monday, June 20, 2011

Plot: Underdog

Now I'm feeling my age! Every time I think 'underdog,' I see a cartoon dog flying. But regardless of our past, there is a plot that is based on the idea that the protagonist isn't equal in strength, power, wealth, or any number of things you can think of, with the antagonist. Did I lose you? Let's just say, the antagonist has the upper hand in more ways than one.

Your underdog character is the average person in type. That means the reader can relate to him. In real life, many of us have experienced some kind of overwhelming obstacle. It may be a health issue, or a disagreement with a parent, sibling, teacher, anyone in your life. They have the upper hand, something they can use to control the circumstances. It could be a job that is changing rapidly, or a requirement that you are morally opposed to. Regardless of the challenge, the obstacle, the issue, you feel that there is nothing you can do. This is one character trait of the underdog. Put that character in harms way.

In, 20 Master Plots and how to build them, Tobias uses the fairy tale Cinderella as the example to illustrate the underdog plot. He mentions Disney's version but believes the Grimm story titled, Aschenputtel, is a better example since the step-sisters are also beautiful but lack Cinderella's moral convictions. Rather than repeat what Tobias said I will use another Cinderella story, my favorite, the movie 'Ever After,' by Andy Tennant and starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston and Dougray Scott. We won't quiver over the details that this film has a medieval servant who is totally Americanized and way too independent for her time. It was a charming tale and one we, or I, would like to believe was possible. In this movie there are no fairy godmothers or magic birds, no dancing rats or North American pumpkins.

Cinderella does suffer at the hand of a step-mother who is driven by jealousy more than by rank, though she uses her title to justify what she is doing. Cinderella has one excessively spoiled step-sister and one who has sympathy to spare. She is clearly the underdog, made into a servant with attitude. She hasn't lost her compassion for those around her and because of this she is driven to rescue a servant sold into slavery by the king, by dressing up as a lady of the court. All dressed up with servant shoes on, she meets the prince and tries to hide from him. But like any good man, he pursues the one who isn't interested in him. (In my epic fantasy, my prince does the same thing with my heroine; I wrote it before this movie came out.) But that sub-plot isn’t new to me or to the movie. It's based on reality.

Act 1:
We meet our hero when his life is normal just before the protagonist enters or is made into a protagonist by events that take place. Within a paragraph or page or by the end of the first chapter events go down hill rapidly for our hero. The antagonist has the upper hand and things don't look too promising.

Act 2:
The hero moves into a position of strength. The tide has changed for the better and he has the upper hand. In 'Ever After,' Drew Barrymore is secretly dating the prince, Dougray Scott. They are sneaking around just like American teenagers. She speaks her mind and he thinks it's great. She feels empowered by his affection and attention. After all, he's the prince and heir to the throne of France.

In the underdog plot, act 2 is developed in 3 stages: In the movie, 'Ever After:'

A). Prince and peasant meet. He likes her and it's obvious which is great for her self esteem. She begins to move toward a stronger position.

B). She receives support from the other serving staff at her father's estate.

C). They get lost and are surprised by gypsies. Drew saves the prince's life and then they befriend the gypsies and share a kiss. It's getting hot!

Act 3:
This brings the rivals into an equal competition with each other.

In 'Ever After,' the spoiled step-sister wants to wear Cinderella's mother's wedding dress and shoes to the ball. Cinderella loses it and punches the step-sister in the face. She goes flying over the bed and later throws Cinderella's beloved book in the fire.

Cinderella gets caught with spoiled step-sisters lovely gown sneaking back into the estate after her clandestine meeting with the prince. She is punished and locked up. (Leonardo da Vinci saves her).

Cinderella attends the ball in her mother's wedding dress and is exposed as a servant by jealous step-mother and spoiled step-sister. This is the 'black moment.' She is rejected by the prince and later sold into slavery by her step-mother.

Cinderella wins her freedom and leaves the estate of her capture only to discover that the prince has had a change of heart.

The rivalry is over. When wicked step-mother and spoiled step-sister arrive at the palace they learn that Cinderella has got her man. The king makes them servants at Cinderella's request. The underdog has won and we are all cheering. Hurray!

For a more in-depth look at this plot, please read 20 Master Plots and how to build them, by Ronald B. Tobias, available through Amazon or your local retailer.

Next week: Master plot, Transformation.

Do you have an underdog in your current manuscript or do you have an all time favorite underdog?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

The main character in my third book was an underdog, although in act II he moved into 'adulthood & responsibility' more so than strength.

Joanne said...

There's something about that underdog that really makes us root for them. I guess it's a certain vulnerability that we connect to in some way, maybe seeing a part of it in ourselves, too. Three cheers for the underdog!!!

N. R. Williams said...

That's a good point, L. Diane.

It's true, most of us root for the underdog because we see ourselves, Joanne.

Thank you both for stopping by.

Golden Eagle said...

I have used underdogs in some of my writing projects--they're interesting characters to write.

Great post!

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Golden.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My book's character was a little bit of an underdog. And I remember the cartoon, although when I hear underdog, I think sports now.

Colene Murphy said...

I DO have an underdog! Gotta love em!

Bish Denham said...

Yeah, I do believe the MC of my novel is an underdog. He's young and brazen and vain and has to learn he can't do all the saving on his own.

(I remember Underdog too.)

Unknown said...

After a thought or two, I think all main characters are underdogs. Why?
They face a challenge and someone is opposing them from reaching their goals. If the MC wasn't an underdog, there would be no challenge.

Mike Ruchhoeft said...

My hero is a bit of an underdog. His father (the captain of the guard) is against him. The farmers don't trust him because of his brother. He's got a few obstacles.

I think heroes should be underdogs in some way.

I remember the cartoon, funny what sticks.

Unknown said...

Some good points here. As usual you have great advice and I can use all that you have to give. My underdog thanks you!

Sylvia Ney said...

I still haven't gotten to this book. It's been sitting on my shelf for a few weeks now, waiting its turn. Thank you for the reminder!

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks everyone for coming by and leaving a comment. I appreciate each and everyone of you.

Scarlet said...

I am new in writing so your post helped me. And I love that movie - I have never seen a Cinderella character so empowered and strong.

Nice to meet you ~