Friday, November 9, 2012

Nanowriter: The Quest as Plot

Nanowriter, part 1

Can one write a novel in thirty days, in a week, in three days? National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and other similar writing challenges show it's possible.

Can that novel be publishable? Well, yes. Author Michael Moorcock in the early days of his career wrote fantasy novels in three to ten days. He later gave interviews about his method, which were included in the book Michael Moorcock: Death is no Obstacle.

The plot type used by Moorcock was The Quest. This plot is found in stories about the Holy Grail, the Maltese Falcon, the great white whale, the lost treasure, and so on.

The story is about a Quest Object, which many people want. The Hero thus faces frequent challenges from the others who also seek the Quest Object.

The Quest story also includes other challenges for the Hero--- attacks from those NOT seeking the Quest Object, such as an Indian attack in a western or an attack by elves or aliens or zombies, challenges posed by the forces of nature, challenges from friends and family who don't understand why the Hero's on the Quest.

The advantage for the Nanowriter is that the Quest plot gives the writer a focus to build the story around. Every event you might think of putting into the novel, you must think--- how does this help or hinder my Hero's Quest?

Another advantage is that it rules out a lot of stories that are more complex to write, and appeal to a smaller audience. For example, the dreaded Coming of Age novel that every would-be writer who's taken a college English class feels he has to write.

Have you ever gone to a bookstore which had a Coming of Age novel section? Are there organizations of Coming of Age authors which give annual Coming of Age fiction prizes? Are there Coming of Age novel fan conventions? Well, no.

The problem of the Coming of Age novel is that the main character's goal is not concrete and measurable. No matter what your seventeen-year-old hero does, if he waits long enough and doesn't die, he will turn eighteen. And that's what makes pretty much every Coming of Age novel by a neophyte writer unpublishable, and unlikely to attract readers.

The Quest keeps the words coming--- and later, the pages turning--- because the goal is something you can see and touch, and writer and reader will know if the Quest Object has, in the end, been found.

The Quest can be adapted to nearly every genre and type of fiction. In a mystery, the Quest Object may be The Real Killer, carefully hidden among a wide range of suspects. In a romance, the Quest Object may be the Romantic Object--- the desirable man that the Romance Heroine really wants. Or, the romance novel might feature a Romance Heroine and a dreadful man trying to obtain the same Quest Object--- the deed to grandpa's ranch, say--- and falling in love on the way.

The reason the Quest is so adaptable is that in every form of fiction people actually read on purpose, the main character has a story goal. The Quest Object is a symbol of that story goal, if not the goal itself.

Some stories with the Quest as plot:

Moby Dick: Captain Ahab's quest for the White Whale.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones seeks the Ark of the Covenant, which melts Nazis.
Lord of the Rings: A reverse Quest, Frodo must destroy the One Ring he already possesses.
Gone with the Wind: Scarlett O'Hara's Quest for the love of Ashley Wilkes.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Enterprise crew seeks fallen comrade Spock

In my current NaNo, my heroine is searching for her brother and the valuable object he stole, a statue called the Blue Infant, which she must return to its owner to prevent that owner from taking her family's ranch.

How might you use a Quest plot for a current or future writing project? How might adopting a Quest plot simplify or clarify a plot idea you have? Can you name any other stories with a Quest plot? 

2 comments:

Amanda Borenstadt said...

This is a gem, "...in every form of fiction people actually read on purpose, the main character has a story goal."

I think that's why many writers say to write the pitch before the novel becaue if you can't write the pithy elevator pitch, you shouldn't write the book.

My last novel, which I'm still trying to find a home for, was very quest driven. The MC had a concrete goal. But she also learned about herself and became stronger, yadda yadda.

I think the problem I'm having in my WIP is that lack of concrete goal. I know where the story ends, but I'm still hashing out what the characters really want.

Great post. Very helpful! :)

Nissa Annakindt said...

In my WIP, I have an actual physical Quest Object, some kind of statue with strange powers which is probably called the Niño Azul if I can remember how to write the funny thing on the second 'n'.
I still don't know what the thing is good for except as something to quest for.

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