Quick, Watson! The game’s afoot! Grab your revolver my friend, and contact our comrades at Scotland Yar–Oh, wait. Wrong plot. False alarm. Put down that magnifying glass. However, the game is still afoot, and fleet of foot. We know what the prey is and what they’re doing: let’s go hunting.
The Hunt is a plot that many do not consider when looking at generalities in structure. It’s also not as easy to spot, as stories like this also are often nested within another, more well-known plot like a Hero’s Journey. Either way, the Hunt is a simple yet effective plot that can muster quite a lot of suspense.
The Hunt is what happens when most of the story is consumed by either the heroes or villains hunting down a certain person/thing/relic/legendary city. Sometimes both the antagonist(s) and the hero(es) are hunting down a certain thing; sometimes it’s a group of heroes hunting down a villain, sometimes it’s a group of villains hunting down a hero. Either way, this plot is extremely versatile.
The hit film Bourne series staring Mat Damon is an example of a Hunt story. The main outlet of conflict is that Jason Bourne (the main character) is an incredibly valuable agent to the US government, but he’s gone rogue and now everyone’s out to get him. They either want to capture or kill Bourne, which drives Bourne to run, hide, and defend himself, which in turn motivates the engine of conflict.
A hunt can either take place as a hunt proper or a “flipped hunt” where the former is the villains hunting the hero(es), and the latter is vice versa. The former is also more common due to the fact that setting heroes at a definite disadvantage is more motivational for the plot, but the other one would work just as well. Either way, these are both classified as a “hunt” and have a bunch of similar elements.
First of all, there is a definite power difference. That’s my way of saying that one party is significantly more powerful than another. It’s important to stress this: if the pursuing party is perceived in any way to be incompetent or harmless, the conflict will quickly go flat as the running party will just evade their useless pursuers without much effort.
The name of the game (har har) with the hunt is temporary. If the hero’s running from danger, then he realizes that any abode, possession, or relationship that he has will be temporary–and you can use that to gather sympathy for him. Because he’s a wanted man, is he going to be able to outrun the authorities, marry the beautiful lass, and clear his name? Focus on the sentiment that “if I don’t succeed, all of this will go away.”
It’s also temporary from the other perspective: if heroes are hunting a villain (or multiple villains) then the heroes have to realize that the trail is fleeting and therefore they have to be on their A-game the entire book. It becomes a test of who’s more vigilant: the villain in not making mistakes, or the heroes in keeping the pressure on.
The more temporary (or contingent) you make things, the better. Then you can have motivation for heroes to act, and to act quickly. Possible motives found in a hunt story include: I must act (and quickly) because if I don’t I will lose things I hold dear. I have to act now so that I don’t lose this trail and I can catch the bad guy. I’ve found myself growing attached to things I’ll have to leave behind in my journeys, and those things are beginning to give me purpose outside of running.
The absence of permanency is a very useful trait of a story. Use it to fuel the conflict and create tension: the temporality of hiding, the temporality of strength, the temporality of possessions and relationships, and so on. Make the protagonists eventually overcome these obstacles and establish temporality: a destiny that they make for themselves. But that’s the object of a future blog post…
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!