COEXIST - Actionable Stories for Sustainable Change - X - eXternal threat

2021-04-21

What is the role of monsters in movies or stories?

Monsters or villainous characters have a responsibility in a story. They are there to apply pressure on the main character/protagonist, so that the heroes rethink their decision on “getting out” of their comfort zone.

Marlin, Nemo’s dad, gets out of his anemone, but now, he has to face 3 sharks (or “4800 teeth” as a character in the movie later puts it).

Rose (in Titanic) has the iceberg episode to deal with.

Neo (in The Matrix) is arrested, intimidated and bugged after he decides to get out of the dream world.

In the COEXIST method of storywriting, so far, you have chosen your hero, issue (in the step C) and you wrote a one-liner of your story (in the step O). You then kick-started the hero’s journey by making them “get out” of their normal course of life (in the step E).

In this step, X, you will learn how to create pressure on the hero at a juncture when they have taken a decision to “get out”.

From Ganesh Chaturti mandals in Pune, 2012. Rama and Lakshmana are attacked by an Asura.

Sidekick

Usually, it is the villain’s sidekick who attacks. The villain watches as the hero reacts to the attacks. In the case of a bad situation, the hero reacts and takes a step which then leads to bad consequences for them.

In the case of Titanic, seeing the iceberg striking the ship, Rose feels that she has to warn her fiancé. She does warn him, but that makes her life spiral out of control.

The monster or situation doesn’t have to lead to anything long lasting for the hero, but this scene has to make the hero doubt whether they took the right decision in moving forward with the quest.

Other use of a monster attack - Prologue

Sometimes, monster attacks are used as a prologue. This is to demonstrate the “high concept” of your story. If you are building a world or demonstrating a concept that you will use in the entire movie or story, this monster attack can establish all the rules of the story.

Inception’s first sequence1, where the dream within a dream concept is established, is a monster attack of sorts. So is Trinity’s opening fight and running sequence in The Matrix. Tenet’s first sequence establishes the “reversal” and involves an attack as well.

How to build the monster attack sequence

  1. Build a monster/bad situation which inherits some properties from your main antagonist of your movie/story.
  2. Pit this “bad thing” against the hero when the hero is least expecting it.
  3. Make the hero just barely get out.
  4. Keep the stakes (for the hero) low.

That’s it! Create your cool monster and unleash them on your hero. Sit back and watch the fun 😈

One of the best monster attack scenes (in my opinion) from Lord of the Rings. A cave troll attacks the Fellowship. (Sorry, I am not responsible for any copyright violations)


  1. A sequence is a collection of scenes. ↩︎

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