Those last two masterplots were pretty intense, so today we’re going to lighten things up! If you love comedy, you might have a Fool Triumphant story in your repertoire.
Fool Triumphant Plot Notes:
The defining element of this masterplot is the protagonist — “The Fool” that everyone else in the story disregards and doesn’t expect to succeed. But being overlooked is both a disadvantage and the Fool’s greatest power. Do note that the fool need not be unintelligent, but they must be naive about the world and their own abilities.
The Fool is an underdog set against a powerful enemy — “The Establishment” whose traditions, one-track mindset, and ignorance of its need to change gives The Fool the edge they need to win in the end. The Establishment may already exist in The Fool’s world, and The Fool unwittingly rises to challenge it, or The Fool is sent in to engage The Establishment, like a Fish-Out-of-Water story.
The vast majority of stories have a character arc where the hero is changed by the end of the story, but this is especially true in the Fool Triumphant tale. In fact, the transformation is so drastic it often includes a name change!
The Fool Triumphant masterplot pokes fun at things we often take seriously (i.e. “The Establishment”), such as law school in LEGALLY BLONDE, and war in FORREST GUMP. These stories aren’t saying these things shouldn’t be taken seriously, but that sometimes it’s beneficial to look at them through the eyes of The Fool and gain some perspective.
The ending is happy, obviously, or it wouldn’t be called Fool Triumphant. Fools are famous for come-from-behind victories. Also, the end usually exposes the establishment as the true fool. And our disregarded underdog is revealed to be a Hero, misidentified as a Fool for far too long.
Example to Study:
I recently read this YA novel (THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B by Teresa Toten) and it’s a great example of The Fool Triumphant:
· PROTAGONIST: Adam, a teenager with OCD, whose therapist makes him join a support group in Room 13B. He certainly believes he’s a fool and has no idea of his inherent powers to change the world around him.
· ANTAGONIST: The Establishment is society and its way of treating those with mental illness. But more specifically, it’s also Adam’s mother, and not for the reasons you might suspect. She is dealing with a demon of her own, and it’s making Adam’s condition so much worse. To teenagers, parents are the authority, the establishment, and defying them, even when it’s in everyone’s best interests, isn’t always easy.
· NAME CHANGE: Adam has a huge character arc and it all begins in Room 13B when the therapist gets everyone to adopt a nom de guerre and the kids all pick superhero names, prompting Adam to choose “Batman” because he has a crush on a girl in the group named Robin. The group then start referring to each other by these superhero names as they all go through their own transformations, unwittingly led by “Batman.”
· COMEDY: This book is very, very funny, even as it sensitively deals with the very serious condition of OCD.
· ENDING: The ending is by no means fairy tale perfect, but Adam does triumph over The Establishment and is reborn a new young man. A character in the book even gives him a new nickname because of it. And everyone agrees he is a hero.
Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW
View all posts by Heather Jackson
46 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: F is for Fool Triumphant”
Heather, really enjoy your posts and perspectives. I wondered about Harry Potter’s stories fitting into this story type, but I think his fame and credibility make him ineligible for true “fool” status.
I am curious – where do you draw the line between a Fool Triumphant story and its cousins?
Good question. I think the “line” is knowledge. Harry Potter is too aware of everything going on around him to be a Fool Triumphant. He may be inexperienced at the beginning of the series, but he’s not naive. And as you mention, Harry’s fame means he is definitely not overlooked or underestimated.
Walter Mitty also comes to mind. In addition to enjoying the Establishment taking one on the chin, I think so many people identify with the Fool in their own lives. Not that they are Fools, of course, but perhaps they also feel overlooked and underappreciated. Sounds like this plot structure is a good writing exercise for anyone who may be struggling with creating a satisfying character arc.
That’s a great suggestion, Lissa! If I’m ever struggling with a character arc I will ask myself if said character is a Fool Triumphant, because though people identify and empathize with the Fool, I always overlook them…. just like everyone else! 😉
I love all of the examples you offered. I just never knew the name of this plot. Legally Blonde and Bridget Jones’ Diary are two of my all time favorites.
Sweet! Those are great stories!
Wonderful post – I need to read that book. I raised a child with severe ADHD.
It was definitely an eye-opening book for me, and made me regret the times I’d joked about “my OCD.” Because I don’t really have it, I’m just a bit particular. But now that I understand more about OCD, I have much more empathy for those with the condition. Which, I suppose, is the power of books: creating empathy for others by putting readers in a situation they’re unfamiliar with. 🙂
Excellent post. Although you’ve just added yet another book to my TBR list. ?
Haha! Wonderful! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂
The fool definitely can sneak up from behind the reader. Well thought out series.
Nice to meet you Heather.
Im blogging from Fill the cracks and Moondustwriter’s Blog. Happy A to Zing!
Thanks! Nice to meet you too.
This is really one of the most fun masterplot. I have encountered it more in films than books, I have to say… but that’s probably my fault 😉
The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz
I’m the same – I’m familiar with more Fool Triumphant movies than books. But that could just be because this masterplot shows up more frequently in genres I don’t read that much, like MG comedy and chic lit. 😉
I was thinking the same thing. Immediately, “The Jerk” and almost any Adam Sandler movie came to mind. Really interesting post. I’ve never heard the term ‘fool triumphant’, so I learned something new today. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed the post and learned something new! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
Heather, first up it’s nice meeting you through the A2Z challenge. What an interesting approach to your theme! I can learn much about various parts of writing reading your posts, so thanks for that! Now, everyone loves an underdog and you certainly illustrated some fabulous fool triumphant characters in your movie examples, many of which I’ve seen. Thank you for your visit and I’ll look forward to your future alphabet prompts highlighting the next masterplot reveal.
~Curious as a Cathy
All Things Vintage: Flapper era #AprilA2z
Thanks for the comment, Cathy! The pictures on your blog are great, especially the one of the cat topping your home page. 😉
I’m learning something new from your theme every day. Thank you and well done. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles
That’s so nice to hear! Thanks, Sheila!
Anyone or anything who pokes fun at the establishment is good in my book… https://francishpowellwriter.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/f-is-for-flight-of-destiny/
I think a lot of people agree with that sentiment. Thanks for the comment, Francis!
Great theme! SO glad I found you on A to Z
Thanks, Melanie! Glad you found us too. And your A-Z theme is really neat. I haven’t seen anyone else do flash fiction videos!
I’d never heard the term before, but now I want to write a Fool Triumphant story! What a great theme. I can’t wait to read them all.
Thanks, Bee! Perhaps you can use it for one of your writing prompts. 🙂
This is me! I just did not know there was a term.
Ha! Glad to have helped you define yourself. Now best of luck triumphing over the Establishment! 😉
This book sounds excellent. I don’t know if this one is a perfect fit, but how about Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl?
Hmm, I began reading that book and got 80% of the way through before it was due back to the library… so I don’t know if it ends triumphantly. However, I’m not sure it fits because though he’s not a typical hero, he’s also not the one with the problem and he’s not fighting any kind of establishment. At least that was my feeling about the story. So I wasn’t rooting for the main character the way I would a true Fool. Plus, maybe it’s just me, but the protagonist was kind of a jerk. ;-/
Awwww, this is such a fun masterplot. I don’t recall any books I’ve read that feature it, but definitely a number of movies. And really, who doesn’t love Forrest Gump? 🙂
The Fool Triumphant is popular in movies, but yeah, less so in novels. Though it’s often found in middle-grade novels. That age group loves comedy. Plus, kids are at the mercy of parents and adults, so they definitely relate to the underdog situation! Thanks for the comment, Sara!
Fool triumphant stories are normally fun, especially to see the underdogs outsmart others and give a new perspective to the existing things…And I also like them because of the happy endings 😉
Great post 🙂
The Piscean Me
Yes! This is one story that requires a happy ending, otherwise it’d be pretty tragic. Thanks for the comment, Srivi!
Totally love the unexpected twist a Fool Triumphant brings in. Love how that fool earns his dignity.. 🙂
#AtoZChallenge- F is for Free Advice
Exactly. It’s nice to see a character rise above and be more than anyone thought they could be.
Oh. I didn’t know such writing theme! This series is surely informing me a lot! Now I can read novels in a much keen eye? 😀 Thank you!
A Reading Writer
You’re welcome, Rose! Glad you’re finding Masterplots Theater helpful!
I really do, Heather! 🙂
yes, Heather! 🙂
A very appealing master plot. I love to see the underdog do well, especially if an arrogant character is brought down a peg.
Yep, I think that’s what makes this masterplot so appealing. Everyone likes to see the big guy brought down, and even better if his downfall is caused by an unassuming protagonist.
I recall that the old Scooby Doo cartoons have a bit of the “fool triumphant” vibe to them with Scooby and Shaggy sometimes helping to solve the mystery by some accidental maneuvering on their part.
Yes! Scooby and Shaggy definitely fit the Fool Triumphant model.