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The Punitive Plot

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > The Punitive Plot

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

In the punitive plot the main character is pretty unsympathetic and generally unlikable, yet they have sufficient charisma or other power that we find them fascinating in some way.

They thus take the part of an anti-hero whose exploits we follow with interest. With macabre interest, we are drawn into their evil work as they take advantage of trusting fools, naive innocents and pompous moralists. However, most punitive stories revert to standard morals and the protagonist eventually gets their just desserts, being exposed, imprisoned or killed.

Example

Shakespeare's Richard III or Milton's Faustus

Discussion

A part of the fascination with the hero-villain is that they play out our fantasies of not having to be 'politically correct' with those we do not really respect. Many of us have a dark side that we suppress, and seeing others enact some of these thoughts somehow liberates us. The punishment of others may also evoke and cathartically exorcise our deep traumas from childhood bullying and abuse. The final punishment of the protagonist then returns us to a morally correct position.

Seeing wickedness and evil being enacted may also simply provide a foil that triggers moral outrage in us and their punishment makes us feel that confident that justice is done and will always be done.

The Punitive Plot is one of Friedman's story plots.

See also

Friedman, N. (1955). Forms of the Plot. Journal of General Education. 8: 241-253

 

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