[Warning: this post contains kinda/sorta spoilers about Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises... although I feel like the spoiler statute of limitations has passed]
As a writer, some things come naturally: action, raising stakes, cool ideas. Personally though, I have to work hard to craft compelling, satisfying emotional arcs for my characters. Concepts and formula abound: phrases like 'what's the through line' 'what is the heart of the story' and 'what are the seven things a character needs fixing' all attempt to bring central emotional arcs into focus. The one I coined when helping a writer friend (Rich Howard) plot out his novel series is 'Victory through _.' As an action horror writer, I'm good at presenting a Victory Through punching, through shooting, or through nuking from orbit.
But I need to go further.
Though it is the only way to be sure...
If there's a story involving physical violence there will always be an aspect of 'victory through beating the bad guy up.' For most stories though, that isn't enough. For most stories, this isn't ultimately satisfying. A hero's victory has to be about more a physical triumph.
Pictured: Victory Through Veininess
For example, let's look at three recent summer blockbusters: Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, and The Dark Knight Rises. Avengers is Victory Through Teamwork. DKR is Victory Through reclaiming your humanity (Batman has to have something to live for to make the leap of freedom) and stepping down. Cabin in the Woods is 'Victory' (if you can call it that) through successfully resisting your assigned role and the trap of a preexisting narrative.
Also Victory through Petard Hoisting
This is not new or even original thinking, this is the way of framing the issue that makes the most sense to me. That being said, I think there are a couple 'Victory Throughs' that we can retire at this point: Victory Through believing in yourself (especially when this is sans any attempt to develop, change and train), Victory Through the power of friendship and Victory Through Ewoks, Care Bears and/or any similar creature.
Pictured: Victory Through Bullshit
What are some 'Victory Throughs' that you find entirely overused? What are some 'Victory Throughs' that you have found incredibly satisfying?