On Stories: Journey Plots: Escape & Pursuit

Some might see these as two separate plots.  I see them as intertwined, even when the entire story is focused on one part or the other.  For the One Armed Man, Cary Grant in North by Northwest, the Bandit in Smokey and the Bandit, and the trio of fools in O Brother where Art Thou the story is all but entirely about escaping the law.  And they are very different stories at that.  For others, such as the Great Escape or Alcatraz, the story is entirely or primarily about how to get free.

Even so, I see these ideas together because whenever someone is trying to break free or stay free, someone else will try to keep them captive.  And when the break comes, someone is going to pursue.

When The Count of Monte Cristo escaped from prison, there was no pursuit.  But he was clever and he was careful.  The idea of being caught again played havoc with his motivation and limited what he could do until he was secure and ready. 

When Huck Finn escaped his father, the pursuit was more imagined than real.  Still, it affected every action that followed for Huck and old Jim.

When the man in Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest escaped being arrested for murder, the pursuit was all too real.  He needed to get away and clear his name at the same time without getting caught first.  Good trick, that.

When the soldiers broke out of the Nazi prison camp in the Great Escape, there was nothing but pursuit.  Few actually made it to safety (Switzerland or wherever), but what a story!

The Plot

Like any Journey plot, the story begins with a need to move.  This is the trigger and in this plot it is generally not complicated.  When Moses went back down into Egypt, the children of Israel were suffering under slavery.  Often it doesn’t have to be spelled out.  The reader can immediately sympathize with words like slavery and knows what needs to happen.

The middle, then, is more or less in two parts: the actual escape and the pursuit.

Moses performed miracles until Pharaoh surrendered.  Normally it isn’t that easy—if you consider that easy.  There are obstacles to be overcome, and if written well, the escapee should be nearly discovered at least once if not more than once.  Here is the tension that keeps a reader on edge.  But as with the quest, it really depends on the skill, creativity, imagination and ability of the writer.

In part 2 of the middle section, Moses lead the people to the red sea.  Suddenly Pharaoh had a change of heart and sent out the troops.  The people had their back to the wall, so to speak, but God did one more miracle.  The sea parted.  The people passed through and the Pharaoh’s army got swallowed up by the waters.

Again, you can see the tension.  They almost get caught,  They almost get slaughtered.  “Almost get caught” is key to the escape and pursuit plot.  And it better be “gets caught” if the rightly imprisoned person escapes from prison in order to murder someone… or maybe…

Anyway, the end of this plot is again like any journey plot.  Either success or failure ends it.

Next Journey plot:  The rescue.

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