Masterplots Theater: E is for Escape

E Masterplots Theater-4

Welcome to Masterplots Theater. In case you’re just joining us for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, here are the Masterplots we’ve covered so far this month:
A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia

The Escape masterplot is just the way it sounds. The hero is trapped and can’t get free. This masterplot works great for any age reader and in any genre. This story thrives on twists and reversals, making it a perfect fit for structure-friendly writers who like to make their readers gasp and sob. If writing high emotional drama is your thing, keep reading.

Escape Plot Notes:

The Escape masterplot shares elements with the Rescue masterplot, however in the Escape plot the hero is the victim and rescues him or herself. In Rescue the hero is the one saving the victim.

The hero is confined within the setting. If the main character isn’t escaping from a place, then it’s a closed and oppressive environment. The confinement is always real, not just a creation of the character’s mind.

Escapes are character-driven stories. At the start of the hero feels controlled and possibly powerless to change their fate, but as the story evolves so does with the character. A strong character arc is a mainstay of this plot.

The hero can be imprisoned from the start of the story, or a newcomer to the situation who because of new ideas, becomes a catalyst for change. Either way, the hero builds enemies and allies during the escape planning. Characters may try to talk the hero out of escaping often to avoid group punishment, or the hero will find helper characters who may or may not want to accompany them to freedom.

After two or three failed attempts the hero is usually successful, but not without casualties. The Escape often results in bittersweet victory. The element of risk can bring injury or emotional loses. One or more characters might even die so that other characters may escape.

Example to Study:

Maze Runner I’m picking Maze Runner – book or film will do. Here’s why:

· CONFINED SETTING: The Glade, where someone imprisons the hero (Thomas), is fully enclosed. It’s covered by a dome and encircled by a deadly maze. There is one door that leads into the maze. It opens each morning and slams shut every night. The people who enter the maze often don’t come back out.

· CHARACTERS: Some of the characters have grown complacent with life in the glade; however Thomas the newcomer is not. Thomas meets with helper characters who educate him on the glade and maze. He also butts heads with people who don’t want things changed, hopes raised, or more lives lost to the maze.

· ARC: The strong character arc of Thomas is less apparent in the movie, but well-formed in the book. Thomas starts as a shaky outsider, but by the end he is clearly the leader of the pack.

· BITTERSWEET VICTORY: Sorry for the spoiler, but not everyone will escape the glade or the maze alive. Nor will this first escape signal the end of Thomas’ ordeal.

Future Research:

The escape masterplot is one of literature’s first plots; it’s at the core of many fairy tales like HANSEL AND GRETEL. You could also watch CUBE, at little known gem of an escape film, or THE GREAT ESCAPE. Book selections include THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO a book that teams a fabulous escape masterplot in the first half and a revenge masterplot for the second half. Or THE WIZARD OF OZ. Technically Dorothy’s ordeal is all in her mind, but we don’t learn that until the end, and the rest of the story fits.

Thank you for joining us today! We hope you enjoyed E is for Escape and invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater: F is for the Fool Triumphant .

Please share your favorite Escape titles in the comments.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

30 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: E is for Escape”

  1. I never really considered escape as a full fledged plot. I always thought of it as a subplot or just a few scenes in a story like maybe one of the major scenes such as a pinch point or the climax. You’ve shown me that entire books and movies are built around this plot. The Maze Runner is a perfect example. I read the book with my son last year when it was his class assigned reading. The Great Escape is one of my favorite movies. There it is, right there in the film’s tittle.

    Melissa Sugar

    1. I considered looking at the rescue masterplot, but the escape plot is more unusual. Almost no one has heard of that one.

    1. Maze Runner was one of the easy ones to pick. Writing these posts made me realize I need to read in more genres. I’m in a bit of a YA rut. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I think escape surfaces in many stories but as an adjunct to another situation, not as a master plot. Interesting to see escape presented this way, and it makes a perfect master plot.

  3. Mhm… so there are elements of the escape in my story, but I don’t think this fits completely. Though I was about to say there isn’t a group in my story, but thinking about it, this is not true.
    This may actually be it.

    So let me see, what else do you have? I may find one that fits even better 😉

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. You don’t need a group for an escape, this is just one example. But we still have a lot of post left. You may still find one that’s fits better.

  4. Wait…The Wizard of Oz was all in her mind? How did I miss that? Hmm…
    Thanks for writing this. It’s a very thought-provoking series, and I like how you dissect the stories to look at their overall plots.

    1. Thanks, Sheila. That’s great to hear. The masterplots are fun. Once I starting learning about them the ideas just start popping! I feel like I have enough story ideas to take me into the next decade after doing this series.

  5. I actually have a short story coming out in an anthology next month that’s an escape story. Such powerful emotions. It’s speculative fiction and deals with being trapped by a mirror world. (Parallels: Felix Was Here, The Mirror People.) I like this kind of conflict. Who hasn’t felt trapped at one point or another?

    1. The emotional aspects are so important for escape plots. Drawing on feelings of being trapped in your real life is also a great writing tip. Being trapped in a mirror world sounds nasty, I would want to escape that too.

  6. This is an excellent series. I hadn’t thought of escape as big enough enough to be a plot before–I’d thought of it more as an element, but I use it in my stories. Thanks so much for the post.

    1. Combining masterplots is a common practice. Escape makes a great subplot or a perfect pairing with a number of the other masterplots.

    1. Unfortunately, many escape plots are very sad. However, I do share your love of happy endings.

  7. Hi there,

    Coming in via a to z. I like this theme. I am interested in writing. And it may sound weird but I really meditate on the author and how he may have wrote what he wrote. I like to think about the creation of the whole thing. I really enjoy the thrill of an escape plot!

    Great post,
    #AtoZChallenge- E is for Eating for two

    1. Hi Seena, I agree with you. Learning more about the author and what factors helped them create the book makes reading it more enjoyable.

We love comments and questions.

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