Masterplots Theater: P is for Pursuit

P is for Masterplots Theater-1Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! Today we’re going on a wild ride with the Pursuit masterplot, which is more commonly known as the Chase plot. But hey, this is the A-Z Challenge where coming up with a suitable synonym so one has a post for a tricky letter is fair game. 😉

Pursuit Plot Notes: 

The defining element of this masterplot is that the hero is being chased for the bulk of the story by the antagonist, not the other way around. 

In a Pursuit masterplot, usually the characters are badass. After all, if a hero doesn’t kick butt, he or she would be caught within minutes by the scary, smart, capable and determined antagonist in pursuit.

In order for a good pursuit to take place, there needs to be an end in sight, typically a safe place the protagonist is trying to reach. It must be established that though the antagonist will never give up, this chase still can’t last forever.

The chase must be high stakes. Often the stakes are as high as death. A close second is the threat of being arrested or being enslaved. The hero must be running for a damn good reason. On the flip side, the antagonist has equally strong reasons for pursuing the hero.

Pursuit masterplots are heavy on the physical action. There’s not tons of time for conversation when the hero is running for their life!

Finally, the pursued and pursuer must interact throughout the story, not just at the climatic final showdown. The villain may capture the hero, then the hero escapes, thus the chase continues. One long chase scene with no interactions would be pretty boring.

Example to Study:

MAD-MAX-FURY-RD-death poster-verticalMAD MAX FURY ROAD is a freaking perfect example of the Pursuit masterplot.

· HERO BEING CHASED: Furiosa is being chased by the War Boys because she’s taken the leader Immortan Joe’s slave wives. Though this is a Mad Max film, and Max quickly ends up in Furiosa’s rig being chased too, Furiosa is the true protagonist of this tale because she is the one with the goal and the problem and the plan.

· CHARACTERS ARE BADASS: No one can drive a war rig like Furiosa! Also, all the characters hang off the various vehicles to fix stuff or fight while moving! The stunts in this movie, which weren’t special effects but actual stunt artists performing, were incredible. 

· END IN SIGHT: Furiosa’s goal is to get the wives to safety, somewhere she calls The Green Place.

· HIGH STAKES: If the War Boys catch them, they’re dead.

· ACTION HEAVY: I don’t think I stopped gripping the armchair rests for this whole movie. Even the conversations were tense and usually amidst the action.

· INTERACTION: There are three main clashes between the War Boys and Furiosa’s gang before the big Act III showdown.

Future Research:

There are many films that use the Pursuit/Chase masterplot, though a lot are based on books, such as DRIVE by James Sallis, THE BOURNE IDENTITY by Robert Ludlum, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding.

More Films: VANISHING POINT, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE NAKED PREY, THE TERMINATOR, and THE FUGITIVE.

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed P is for Pursuit and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, Q is for Quest.

Have any Pursuit/Chase stories you love? Share them in the comments!

For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:

A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After

I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal
K is for Kinsmen
L is for Love Story
M is for Metamorphosis

N is for Nemesis
O is for Out of the Bottle

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

20 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: P is for Pursuit”

  1. There’s a book called “Shattered” by Dean Koontz which is basically one long chase scene (similar to the films Duel and Joyride) and it was one of my favourite Koontz novels when I was a teen. And also “Intensity” (another Koontz) that has similar themes and is STILL one of my favourite thrillers. I can’t think of any other books with the pursuit/chase plot, though — like everyone else, I keep thinking of films instead.

    P.S. I just came back from my honeymoon to about 15 of these plot articles and I’m enjoying catching up with them all 🙂

      1. Thanks 🙂

        Also, I just realised that Intensity isn’t a Pursuit plot because the hero does the chasing throughout the book not the other way around. It’s still worth checking out, though.

  2. The first Pursuit movies that I thought of were The Fugitive and the Bourne series. Great explanation of this masterplot style. Great theme you have here! I’m really enjoying reading them and learning all the while…

    Michele at Angels Bark

  3. I think that there are many examples of literal pursuit plots, but also there is a more figurative pursuit. I guess that is the phrase that I’m looking for…more a thought, an idea, pursuing you rather than an actual person.

    In The Quiet Man, Sean Thornton is pursued by the memory of the death of the man in the ring back in America. This keeps him, at least initially, from doing what needs to be done in Mary Kate’s eyes for them to be fully married.

    Mary Kate is pursued by “this is how it is supposed to be” and the oppression of her overbearing big brother. It is there at every turn. She can’t be fully married in her heart without her dowry, her “things about her” and her brother being made to give her what is rightfully hers. This chases her throughout the movie until Shaun fights Will Danaher, Mary Kate’s brother.

    The resolution comes for both at the end of that fight. Shaun fought Will and he didn’t die…he didn’t have to fear his fists anymore. Mary Kate’s man fought and got her dowry. Then, they threw the money into the fire, because it wasn’t really the money that was needed, but courage and a sense of value, value of both the past and the present.

    I probably fumbled through all of that, but those are my thoughts on it.

    Thanks for another very informative post. Have a blessed day!

    1. Though a character can be haunted by desires, the Pursuit masterplot really does require a physical chase after someone by someone. Your story sounds more like a Golden Fleece in that the character’s went after something (dowry) and in the end realized that it wasn’t what truly made them happy (hence burning it). Glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. Well you already named three of my favorite movies so I don’t think I have anything to add. North by Northwest, Catch me if you Can and The Fugitive, all three pursuit plots, but three very different movies. I love the classic line from The Fugitive when Kimbel tries to tell his pursuer that he’s innocent and his reply, is something along the lines, “I don’t care.” That’s part of what made the movie so great. The person we perceived as the antagonist or the person standing in Kimble’s way, the U.S. Marshal, Gerard, wasn’t really a bad guy. He didn’t really have anything against Kimble, personally, he was just doing his job. North by Northwest is a classic that I can watch over and over and Catch me if you Can is one of those rare fims that combines, mystery, suspense, action, drama, humor with a touch of sadness. I loved your post today.

    Melissa Sugar @

    Melissa Sugar Writes

  5. I do enjoy a good pursuit story, and I loved the first two Terminator movies when they first came out! Actually, I’m working on a novel now called Hunting the Hunted that uses the pursuit theme. The protagonist is a vampire who is trying to outsmart a group of vampire hunters, but they in turn are incredibly well trained too, so the vampire begins to struggle… still not sure who wins that one, which is very definitely a race to the death, human or vampire 😉

    https://spookymrsgreen.com/2016/04/19/atozchallenge-p-is-for-pagan/

  6. I enjoyed your description of the pursuit plot. My first book contains a pursuit scene that takes up only a chapter. That was great fun to write. I hadn’t considered writing an entire plot around the theme though. Since I enjoyed doing the one scene so much, I’m just going to have to consider it as a plot for a future book.

    1. Before writing this post, I’d always thought of chase/pursuit scenes as just part of a bigger story, but after searching for examples realized there really are entire movies/books that are one big chase! So if you like writing action, maybe this masterplot is for you! 🙂

  7. Great description of Pursuit. I read a book years ago about a beautiful woman in the late 1800’s who is brutalized by her husband until she kills him in defense and then escapes. She is pursued through uncivilized western US territory by her husband’s evil brother and finds safety in some kind of mine (I can’t remember this detail) where she is the only woman, and is befriended by someone who works as a surgeon, I think. I only mention this because I’d love to be reminded of the name of the book by one of your readers. It’s a perfect example of Pursuit.

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