How do I write an underdog story?

Everyone loves a good underdog story. In a sense, we can all relate to the oppressed character rising up against insurmountable opportunities. And the required wellbeing is as sweet and satisfying as a warm cup of cocoa at the end of a cold and bitter day.

The underdog plot is a surefire recipe for a story that will interest readers, invest in, and cheer them on to a worthwhile conclusion. Plus, writing can be a lot of fun. Read on to learn more about how to create an underdog story that will ring your reader's lucky bell.

The universal appeal of the underdog story

At its core, the Underdog story is a rivalry in which at least one character competes against the protagonist for an object of desire with high stakes. But the outsider's conspiracy goes a step further, forcing the hero to face overwhelming opportunities.

A well-written underdog story arouses the reader's liking like no other. It is visceral and relatable. It is the triumph of the little man over the giant. It embodies the hope that lives in each of us.

Here is a short list of examples of underdog stories:

  • David and Goliath
  • The Martian
  • independence Day
  • The hunger Games
  • Rocky
  • Rudy
  • Cinderella Man
  • The refugee
  • The karate kid
  • Oliver Twist
  • Holes
  • Slumdog millionaire
  • Sea biscuit
  • The pursuit of happiness

Elements of the underdog story

To set up your underdog story so that readers get the most impact and success, you need to make sure that the necessary elements are in place. Readers are having an emotional experience and you want to prepare them and give them the best ride your story can offer.

Here's how:

1. Create a character that readers can root for

Always an important step, but crucial to the underdog conspiracy. Readers need to care about your protagonist and feel a certain kinship with him. In my article, How to Write Action Scenes That Will Excite Your Readers, I covered some effective techniques to achieve this.

It all comes down to making your character likable and somehow suppressed. Readers gather around a character suffering from undeserved misfortune.

2. Represent the disempowerment

Show how your protagonist is deprived of everything he worked for. Show how circumstances turned against them and brought them to their knees.

This is the first phase and should start early, usually after a brief period of showing your protagonist's life before disaster strikes.

3. Show the underlying strength

Even when your hero is dejected, haunted, perhaps even to the brink of destruction, you must show a core of strength and determination. At this point it may just be an ember, but it burns beneath the surface.

Your character has the will to stand up to the opposition. Tempt your readers and make them starved for a reversal of happiness.

4. Design a series of challenges and try / fail cycles

Things get worse before they get better. Your protagonist will try to fail, or perhaps succeed with unforeseen consequences that will bring him out of the pan and into the fire.

This is a good place to apply the rule of three to keep readers happy.

5. Present the turning point

Here is the reversal readers have been waiting for. It's delicious and sustainable, but readers will feel that your hero isn't home free yet. And they are right.

This is a great opportunity to convert a previous weakness into a strength or uncover a vulnerability of the antagonist to level the playing field and make your hero's ultimate victory credible.

6. Create the darkest moment

You showed your readers the light at the end of the tunnel. This is when you wipe it out.

It is difficult to write this. It hurts. You hate doing this to your brave character and your loyal reader. One thing that helps is holding on to the belief that victory, in contrast, feels exponentially more satisfying.

7. Produce the triumph

Oh yes baby! You've been keeping an eye on your audience every step of the way, in touch with your readers' emotions, and now everyone is ready to enjoy the payout.

Don't save here. Make sure you give in to your readers' cravings for justification. Let the catharsis play completely. Let your fists pump and your hearts swell. Let your reader love every minute of it.

Underdog Example: The Shawshank Redemption

To illustrate the elements of the underdog story, let's examine the brilliant film The Shawshank Redemption, which is based on a story by Stephen King.

Big Big Spoiler Alert: watch the movie first. It's awesome!

1. Create a character that readers can root for

Andy Dufresne is a smart guy who worked hard as a vice president of a bank to help himself and his family have a good life. What does he get for it? His wife kicks him off with the local country club pro golfer and the two are murdered.

We see the evidence piling up against Andy in the courtroom and he gets little sympathy, mercy, or help. He is going to prison to serve two consecutive life sentences.

2. Represent the disempowerment

We meet the antagonist, the prison guard, and experience Andy's descent into humiliation, pain, loneliness and despair. He is mocked, beaten, and repeatedly raped. It is literally and figuratively in a very dark place.

Without a doubt, Andy is being pushed down hard and if he is ever to get up again it will be from a well-defined underdog position.

3. Show the underlying strength

Despite the many hardships he suffers, Andy shows a basic toughness and resilience. Red, who acts as the prison procurer for goods, insists that Andy will be the first to crack under the pressure, but Andy proves he's wrong and the two become friends.

Andy doesn't bow or squeak and when he finds a way to work things to his advantage he shares the gust of wind with his fellow inmates.

4. Design a series of challenges and try / fail cycles

We watch Andy fight his way through conflicts with fellow inmates, guards, the prison guard, and even the state prison system. We see the rise and fall of his hopes and dreams and admire how he manages to bring some real moments of beauty and light into the dark confines of the prison.

We see his situation appear to be improving as he establishes himself as a resident tax advisor and takes advantage of the benefits. However, the director's corruption leads to Andy's deeper incarceration. Not only is he behind bars, but he is also forced to participate in washing a river of dirty money for the overseer. He's practically a slave to an evil man.

5. Present the turning point

There's a new kid in the cell block, a good-natured repeat offender named Tommy. He's a breath of fresh air for the downtrodden prisoners and a boost to Andy's mood when he teaches the young man a GED and offers a chance for a future outside the prison walls.

The real turning point, however, comes when we discover that Tommy has a piece of evidence that could prove Andy's innocence and release him from prison.

6. Create the darkest moment

Just when it looks like things could get better, the warden killed Tommy and stifled any hope that Andy might be able to appeal his verdict and escape enslavement as finance manager for the depraved and manipulative prison chief .

Andy is really squeezed under the director's bad thumb. The darkness of the moment is underscored when Andy is locked in solitary confinement for months.

7. Produce the triumph

At that deepest moment, when all signs point to Andy's destruction, he literally disappears from prison. Path! In a moment of supreme and delicious victory, we find that Andy has escaped. But it gets better.

Not only did he fool the overseer and his henchmen, but he also managed to take away a large portion of their illicit profits and forward solid evidence of their wrongdoing to the press leading to their abolition.

Perhaps the cutest thing is the reunion with Red, his prison mate who would never have made it outside the prison walls without Andy's friendship and intervention.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most satisfying underdog films of all time and is full of poignant and beautiful moments. It excellently embodies all of the emotions a reader (or viewer) is supposed to feel throughout the story.

The vicarious thrill of the outsider

There's something irresistibly attractive about an underdog story. We all want to believe that we can be successful in spite of insurmountable adversity. Give your readers that vicarious thrill by bringing your underdog protagonist down to the ground so they can fight their way back to triumph.

What's your favorite underdog book or movie? Tell us about it in the comments.


There are many moving parts in an underdog story. Let's focus on one aspect. Write a scene that depicts your protagonist's disempowerment. You can start by showing your life before events tear you down and then write about the downward spiral that is forcing you into the underdog position.

Create your own idea or use one of the following prompts:

  • Kyra joins the swim team with an ambition to become national champion. However, someone is spreading malicious rumors that mean trouble.
  • Declan's work as a chemist gives him a lucrative position in a promising new startup, but not everyone is happy about it.
  • Tanya enjoys her career as a successful horse breeder. Until a valuable horse is stolen from a neighboring stable and she is suspect.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're done, post your work in the comments and give your co-authors feedback!

Joslyn Chase

Joslyn ChaseAny day she can send readers to the edge of their seats tingling with excitement and biting their fingernails on the knob is a good day for Joslyn. Get their latest thriller, Steadman & # 39; s Blind, an explosive read that will have you flipping through to the end. No Break: 14 Tales of Chilling Suspense, Joslyn's newest collection of Short Suspense, is available for free at