The Key to a Great Story – ‘The Quest’ Plot

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The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. The book cover I know and love.

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. The book cover I know and love.

The stock plotline of most fantasy novels is ‘The Quest’; Lord of the Rings being one of the most famous examples. The protagonist’s need to reach a specific location or retrieve a special object, and overcome the obstacles and temptations along the way. When I first started writing books, and I dived straight into fantasy novels, I wrote quests.

The thing that I always found the most difficult was that quest plotlines can very easily become very boring. More than most other plotlines, you really to plan the journey from A to Z with every step of the journey mapped out. Quest plotlines are not easy to keep in line if you don’t have at least a basic plan in mind. This isn’t just my advice either, this is the writing advice doled out by Terry Brook’s in his book ‘Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life’.

One of my all time favourite books is the ‘Elfstones of Shannara’ by Terry Brooks. It is a classic quest plotline. The main character Wil needs to first find the only woman in the world who can save the world, then they need to journey together in order to do a multitude of quests while facing demons at the same time. It’s been a while since I last read the book, but it has stuck with me ever since I was a child for one simple reason; I was never once bored while reading it.

If you want to write quests, read Terry Brooks. I’d recommend the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring as well to see how a quest can be twisted and turned, see many varied places and even (sadly) fall apart. The book’s great, but the film condenses the quest even further to give it a good, quick, more modern pace.

The key thing that you need to remember with Quest plots is keeping the pace up. I’ve read many books where the plot just sort of fell apart in the middle, and I really had to persevere to get to the end. I won’t name names, but many a book like this has put me off from reading other works by them, which if you want return readers is not a good sales technique.

The Quest itself though is one of the most varied and interesting plots that you can write. It can be literally about anything. If you have a good fast pace, nothing irrelevant (i.e. pages and pages of people travelling without seeing stuff that’s important to the story) and interesting dynamic characters who quite frankly might not get on with each other but are stuck together you have a really great story to tell.

lotr pamaramic

Taking the Fellowship of the Ring as an example, not all of the characters really trusted each other for various cultural reasons and even something as simple as encountering Crebain from Dunland (for those not in the know, they’re really large crows) forced the group from an ‘easy’ path up onto the snowy mountain paths.

So when it comes to the quest, the best advice is to plan. And plan again.

If you liked this post then you might be interested in the following post about other plot types:

‘Overcoming a Threat’ Plot

‘Rags to Riches’ Plot

‘Voyage and Return’ Plot

Comedy’ Plot

Tragedy’ Plot

The Rebirth’ Plot

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9 responses »

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