Mat and couse

“And the mouse-police never sleeps…” Jethro Tull, Heavy Horses

The hunter and the hunted… so many books. And many is the book told from the point of view of the hunted. The hunted themselves may have goals (sometimes to defeat the hunter – See LotR).

I was thinking about the structure of these. The typical thriller/detective is usually from the point of view of the cat (not always) stalking the criminal/hunted. The tension comes from either that the hunted will succeed in whatever dastardly deed they plan, or most likely in the scene where the cat/hunter catches up with the criminal/hunted – usually in the act, and… the tables turn. At least briefly the hunter becomes the prey. They duke it out and (mostly anyway, unless the villain gets away for the sequel) and the original hunter triumphs.

A lot of fantasy, of course, works the other way around, with the small/weak ‘mouse’ being hunted by the cat/power and authority. Inevitably the mouse improves his ability and strength – and with each improvement the weight of the ‘cat’ chasing him has to increase too (otherwise the book gets boring, PDQ). The book often hinges on the ‘turn’ point, where the desperate prey finally strikes back. At the deathstar or Mount Doom, the hunted almost inevitably take on a far bigger foe, and twist the obvious.

Aside from anything else this obviously plays on the human trait of sympathy for the underdog, the smaller, the weaker (One sees this in the sympathy Ukraine garners from being attacked by the much larger Russia – and the delight of many at the bigger power getting a black eye.)

As a writer there are a couple of things worth focusing on here. 1)The worm needs to turn, but the odds must still be against it. 2)The hunted simply can’t be too good, or too big or too capable (yes, I am having this very problem in one of my stories at the moment).

This message is brought to you via a manuscript I got suckered into looking at where the hero starts like superman, and easily overcomes obstacle after obstacle on their way to being the ruler of everything, bless their heart.

Picture: Pixabay, no attribution required.

26 comments

  1. The cat can be made “stronger” merely by having him devote more attention to the mouse.

    Something I wrestled with in a story where the villains were picked off one by one.

  2. If they start out like superman, where’s the growth of character? Unless they change their views on things maybe? Start out oppressive and gradually turn to human rights?

    1. Dealing with the unintended consequences of being Superman around breakable cities and people. This is an example.

      1. Yes, growth of character by facing ethical quandaries. See also, Charlton Heston version of El Cid. Unbeatable in a fight (even after death), but dealing constantly with what we would call today conflicts of interest.

    2. Superman can grow by realizing that however much he wants an ordinary life, he has a calling to be Superman.

      One notes that all character arcs, like real arcs, must be finite in duration.

  3. One story basically had Clark Kent comes to town, sees the problem, becomes Superman and solves the problem with no real problem.

    IE IMO No Real Story.

    And yes, I have had “story” ideas like the above when my main character is Too Powerful.

    1. I wonder if one could take a story like that and tilt it so that the protagonist has become the villian by the end?

      Of course there, I imagine the foreshadowing would have to be really too notch or the reader would feel rather betrayed by the story, instead of the hero.

        1. That’s a good point. Watching someone who should be the hero become a monster generally is not fun.

          I wonder if one could salvage that by shifting the protagonist to be a sidekick character, who, essentially, has to confront their hero when they’ve gone off the rails? That should have a more heroic arc, and a chance at redemption for the fallen hero.

          Of course, then the actual protagonist isn’t to super powered solver then…

            1. I’ve read a story where the backstory had no resolution, and I wanted to give it one, but it’s been really hard to rip off.

        2. Or another option, the protagonist is the sidekick who is simply trying to figure out how to keep up with, not be a boat anchor for the super hero?

          I’m thinking that may be how Doctor Who actually handled it; the assistants were the real protagonists while the Doctor served as more exposition and duex ex machina, rather than the one going through the core struggle of the story.

    2. Some Roaming the Earth stories are more about the wandering problem-fixer’s impact on other people than on the wandering problem-fixer, but I’m having trouble thinking of an example.

      1. See just about any 1960s Hercules / Maciste movie. There is a problem with a monster, or an invading army, or a corrupt advisor plotting to overthrow the queen / princess. So Mr. Muscles goes off and performs various mighty deeds, the problem is solved, and he wanders off into the sunset for further adventures.

      2. “Have Gun Will Travel” other than his origin story there are few (I can think of one other) episodes where Paladin has any real character development. It’s his impact on others that counts.

      3. What came to my mind was “High Plains Drifter.” Clint’s character was the protagonist, but the focus was the corruption of the town. (Of course, that wasn’t a “redemption” plot in any way, shape, or form.)

        There have been times, though, when I think that a visit from a “drifter” would be a good thing for my city hall.

  4. Something about the hero no longer listening to other people, and then not worrying about the damage he/she/it causes, and starting to talk-down to people more and more, and assuming more and more privileges “for saving you,” and the losing his cool and showing the really bad personality beneath the surface? It would have to be done deftly, perhaps with a few comments about “whatever became of That One Kid,” or someone coming in from outside, recognizing the protagonist, and making a quick excuse to get out of town without saying anything stronger than, “Ah, yes, I’ve met him before.”

  5. There’s an interesting thing that happens when your character can do -anything-. The problem they have is deciding what they -should- do. Having the power to take over the country or the world is nice for sure, but does Our Hero get what he wants if he takes over the world? Or is that the best way to be sure he doesn’t get it?

    Hmmm… So what is it he wants, exactly?

    Personally I like over-powered characters. It shows serious moral fortitude when that guy refrains from throwing his weight around. I also like Accidental Hero. That guy gets stuck with the job and has to stick-handle his way through with no expectation of success. Much better than Chosen One, IMHO, too much top-down management from the powers above.

    1. I like the blending of the chosen one with some of the others. The Chosen One is, to me, the character who gets a good swift kick in the pants that ‘since no one else is solving this, get your ass in gear it’s your job.’ Sometimes they’re self-chosen. Depends. And the powers above are varying levels of meddlesome depending on the story. There’s also a degree (at least in my stories) Of “Okay, I’ve given you the tools to deal with the problem. It’s your job to use them right.” with my chosen ones. The King who is actually good at the job and didn’t ask for the trouble that comes to him, but there’s a reason there’s a GOOD king right now vs. an idiot. Chosen one? quite possibly, but also a man with his duty who won’t shirk it.

  6. I really dislike ruining a hero. My backbrain _really_ dislikes ruining a hero. I haven’t tried a second time after the experience of the half the brain that doesn’t communicate normally, getting pissed at the half of the brain that communicates and “feels” like me!

    Now rehabilitating an idiot who found himself doing things he hates, and getting out of it, redeeming himself is much more fun. I like HEAs.

    Which getting back to Dave’s premise, can flip who the hunter is, and who’s the prey several times.

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