Quest:A plot device found often in mythology and literature; the journey a hero/ine takes to achieve his/her goal, the search for a person/place/thing – tangible or intangible.
Admit it, we all love a good quest. Be it a literal quest (survive hardship and terror to deliver this ring to an ancient wizard), or a more abstract one (you must find a way to improve the relationship with your brother or else…), the quest is essentially a search for something. It is usually long and difficult. The quest is something we can all identify with, struggle through the story along with a character, and imagine ourselves becoming a better/different/stronger/wiser person because of what we’ve “gone through” during the quest.
Like the main character we’ve quested with, we all hope to find that certain something – or someone – that will change our lives. And this is the key to the power of the quest as a plot: it represents our innermost desires.
Setting up a quest as the driving force behind your story’s plot is pretty easy, and it’s practically fail-safe. It’s really hard to ruin a good quest.
Structure of the Quest Plot
Stories based on a quest plot can essentially be broken down into three acts: The Motivating Act, The Journey Act, and The Goal Act. Of course, there’s a lot that will go on “behind the scenes” of your main plot, but we’re focusing on the skeleton here. By tacking the three acts using them as a foundation for your story, the writing will be tightly plot-driven and help you keep the action moving right along.
The Motivating Act – This part of the quest plot needs to happen right away, usually within the first three chapters. Usually, you’ll find it in the very first chapter, often on the very first page.
Basically, the Motivating Act sets the stage for your character’s journey. It is the reason that your character moves – the cause of all their later actions. This motivator is often an event; the hero’s father dies, leaving him with enormous debts to repay … the heroine is kidnapped by a band of marauding pirates … an ancient and unspeakable evil awakens and moves across the land.
And don’t forget the faithful companions that naturally gravitate towards the hero/ine during this act. A quest is rarely taken entirely on the main character’s own.
The Journey Act – Your plot has been sparked into creation, the quest begun. Your reader should be wondering if the specific object of the quest will be fulfilled. Now, you’re going to drag them with your characters through a maze of awe, disappointment, danger, delays, and experiences.
This “act” is the meat of your story. It’s where everything takes place – just keep in mind that all the things happening need to push your characters toward the conclusion … the success or failure at achieving their goal. Sub-plots happen during the journey act, characters might die or fall in love or be kidnapped (or rescued) – it’s exciting and always moves, step-by-torturous-step, to the final act.
The Goal Act – The journey is complete, the sub-plots are resolved, and the biggest peril is ahead. This is the final act before curtains fall, in which the goal is achieved or the characters fail.
Whether the hero/ine succeeds or fails, the goal act always involves some sort of epiphany. The characters realize something crucial to their life, way of thinking, culture, etc. They always succeed – even if the actual goal of the quest fails – because they have come through the quest stronger and wiser, a changed person.
Create a Quest Plot Checklist
When you decide to write a quest story, it is absolutely essential that you outline at least the main points of your story. Quests are by nature very in-depth, with a lot of side-story and back-story that comes into play. It’s very easy to stray so far from your main plot that you can’t recapture the theme unless you have a way of reminding yourself – constantly – what that theme is.
Jot down or type up this checklist, and answer the questions before you start writing. This series of questions will keep your main story at the front of your mind, continually pushing what’s unimportant to the side.
1. What is the goal of the quest?
2. How will the characters and readers determine quest success or failure?
3. Why does the main character care about the quest?
4. What is the theme of the quest – the “wisdom” the characters come to see?
5. Why do the hero/ine’s companions continue through the quest with them?
6. How does the quest change the characters, and how is that change displayed?
Reference your checklist often as you write, and you’ll find that the imaginary walls blocking your creativity have little substance against the thoughtful consideration you’ve already given to your plot.