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Author Topic: Side Plots
AstroStewart
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Ever since I've recently gotten back into working on the fantasy novel I've been tinkering with in my free time for the past few years, I've started noticing something in the books I've been reading - characters take forever to get where they want to go / do what they want to do. They always get bogged down with side quests.

The problem, even though the side events I read in the novels I've been reading, and in most fantasy novels, are necesarry and help develop the characters and form a bond of trust between various characters etc etc, whenever the characters get bogged down in a side quest, I'm always slightly annoyed because I want to see what happens when they get where they're going. As a result, I find it very difficult to write these type of events into my story because there too, I want to see them get where they're going.

At the same time, I can tell that I NEED to have some side events, because otherwise the characters, who just recently joined forces, can't really be expected to trust each other yet / form a bond of friendship just by travelling for a short, uneventful period of time.

Another problem is that in the part of my story I'm thinking about the group consists of 2 humans and a dragon, so I can't really think of a good reason they wouldn't just fly, and be where they want to go in no time at all.

Has anyone else had this type of problem before / have any suggestions?

My gut tells me I just need to sit down and think of some kind of event that distracts them for awhile, but I don't really want them to be distracted, which makes it hard to write.


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NewsBys
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Johnbrown started this topic and posted a link that I found helpful.

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/002075.html

I actually cut the questions posed in the article and pasted them at the top of my WIP so I could address them. It got me back on task. The questions I'm referring to are:

1) Who is the protagonist?
2) What is their goal?
3) What or who prevents them from achieving their goal? (Antagonist)
4) What is the antagonist's goal?
5) Why is the protagonist the one person who most gets in the way of the antagonist achieving their goal?

I also added two questions.
6) What does the protagonist need to do to accomplish the goal?
7) What does the antagonist need to do to accomplish the goal?

Sounds like your guys want your story to be more of a Milieu story with a more casual romp through an environment on the way to a goal.
Sounds like you want to write a story focused more on righting a wrong in the universe (Event story).
Either way your story will be about a specific quest.

But, you need to decide if you want to focus on the environment (Milieu) more or resolving the Event more.

For example, the LOTRs books are to me more Milieu, but Star Wars (Episode 4) is more of an Event story.
Both have a specific quest.
LOTR = get rid of the ring
Star Wars = save princess

In the LOTRs the characters get sidetracked often for the purpose of showing the reader the landscape. So it is more focused on the "getting there."

Star Wars cuts pretty quickly to the action. It is focused on "what happened when they got there."

I guess you need to decide on what type of story you want it to be.

FYI - Stories with a bunch of side quests irritate me too.

As for your dragon. Is he/she injured? Too young to fly? I would buy one of these reasons.


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Blue_Rabbit
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Maybe it would be a good idea to have a dragon who was kept by humans as a domestic animal and simply didn't learn how to fly.
Side quests are fun, if the story doesn't look like it grew on sterids. If the heroes want to do something different, let them. Maybe half the way you'll notice that the story you finish is not quite the one you've started, but that does not matter, as long as you like it.

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AstroStewart
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Yeah, mine is definitely an event story, focused more on defeating "the evil in the universe" as you put it, so it's not so much that I need side quests to explore the environment, but that I need time to let the characters come to trust each other / care about each other.

Thanks for the link, it's giving me some thing to think about. Also, now that you mention it, I didn't have the dragon get injured, but since the characters essentially met in battle, it wouldn't be too hard to go back and have the dragon get injured enough to not be able to carry them for any reasonably long distance.

Thanks.


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wbriggs
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You might also consider letting them go straight for the big difficulty. Fly there. Attack the problem; kill the monster; and then . . . it didn't work. Why not? The story continues.

The flying thing could work to your advantage, in eclipsing even the need for summary of trudging over landscape.

The lack of trust between the characters, because they haven't had a chance to know each other, could also add tension. My point: these difficulties are great ways to make the story tense!


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johnbrown
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Why require them to trust one another? Why not let them build the trust as they do whatever it is that needs to be done? In fact, what if one of the three can't be trusted? You don't need a side quest unless you really want one.

As for why a dragon can't fly:

--Broken wing
--Torn chest muscle or cut in some engagement
--Crippled from birth
--Some lord dragon of the skies told him he's grounded
--He's allergic to stuff in the atmosphere
--In this world there are creatures that inhabit the sky during their mating season and it would be awful
--The locust are moving and it would require the riders to wear armor in flight
--The dragon is actually quite small
--The dragon is sickly
--Its wings have been clipped because it was defeated by someone
--The riders get pecked by crows up that high and can't prevent it--kind of like hawks get chased away by little birds
--People are watching the skies for them, and since it's all bright and sunny, they'd be too easy to spot
--No gear. Saddles etc were stolen or lost. They try but fall off and almost break a leg.
--???

Sure you can add to the list until something sparks your imagination

[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited June 07, 2005).]


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johnbrown
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BTW, if YOU want to see them get where they're going and don't want to write a side event, I'm pretty sure that boredom will come through. Get them where they need to be. There's no reason to establish trust up front. You just need a reason for them being together.
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Survivor
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Which of the characters doesn't trust the others?

Why do they need that character's trust?


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johnbrown
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BTW, if you look at LOTR you'll see that the fellowship started with tension between many of the people.

Boromir and Aragorn
Boromir and Frodo
Legolas and Gimli


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Lullaby Lady
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Your "two people and a dragon" question made me immediately think of the book "Eragon." In that story, dragons were rare-- only the evil empire had any-- and it had to avoid drawing attention to itself. (It had to fly high in order to avoid being spotted, and then had to find sufficient space to hide in at night, or during the day when the humans wewre in big cities.) Also, it was not yet full-grown, and so only one human could ride at a time. Sometimes the two main characters would split up, but they also needed to stick together most of the time, because they were running away from a threat. So the lack of communication was a big issue. The dragon and her Rider were linked telepathically, but the two humans were not able to communicate in that way.

The "dragon and two humans" storyline dominates the entire plot of "Eragon." You might want to read it to make sure yours is quite different (assuming you haven't already read it)-- mostly because it's a popular, very recent first book in a new series.

~LL


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KatFeete
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I don't find it necessary to "build trust" between characters unless one is inherently untrustworthy (or inherently untrusting). If the characters met in battle and they know they all fight the same thing - then let them trust each other. Why not?

This doesn't preclude character tension. Aragorn and Boramir have already been mentioned. Just because you're on the same side doesn't mean you agree.

This also allows only a certain type of trust. Just because you're willing to fight beside someone doesn't mean you'll tell them your intimate secrets.

As for the dragon, my first thought was that it might not be able to carry that much. Two humans plus gear is a lot to get into the air....


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franc li
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Star Wars IV was nore event driven, but V which is usually thought the better movie, seems to have quite a few. I mean, their quest is "don't get killed." Or have I missed something? I guess there is a quest for getting the hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon to work. Luke's quest is to become like his father. Until he decides maybe that's not such a hot idea.
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MaryRobinette
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I know what you mean about side quests when they don't relate to the overall goal. I stopped reading a book that was recommended to me after the heroes were walking down the road and attacked by poisonous plants! They defeated them easily and continued on their way. What the--? There was no reason for it.

BUT you have a beautiful setup waiting for you. Just look at that list of reasons the dragon can't fly, and pick one, say the torn muscle, and think of how it happens. Just don't make it back story. That's one of your diversions. The other advice that has worked well for me is to look at the story and think, "What's the worst thing that could happen to them here?" Then do it.


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dpatridge
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quote:
The other advice that has worked well for me is to look at the story and think, "What's the worst thing that could happen to them here?" Then do it.

i SO love using that advise in my own stories... and RPG play too

what is the absolute most low-down crappiest, cruelest thing i can have happen to my favorite character? and then i have it happen! it's so fun because i already know my character is creative enough to get out of it, that's why i love him so much, but the struggle! oh, the struggle! yeah... i'm kinda sadistic, but then, aren't all artists? whether of words or of pictures, of film, or of paper?


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Doc Brown
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MaryRobinette said:
quote:
I know what you mean about side quests when they don't relate to the overall goal. I stopped reading a book that was recommended to me after the heroes were walking down the road and attacked by poisonous plants! They defeated them easily and continued on their way. What the--? There was no reason for it.

This is a common mistake made by people who think their skills as a dungeonmaster will translate into skills as a writer. They misunderstand an important difference between a role playing game and a prose story.

In a role play game you can engage players with action, puzzles, cool characters, vivid description, and objects that inspire the players' creativity. In a role play game plot is optional.

In prose, you can only engage readers with plot. Action, characters, description, etc. are important in prose, but anything unrelated to plot will disengage the reader.

Tip:
If you want some event to send your characters on a side quest, just let your readers know that the event was somehow caused by the antagonist. The protagonist may have no idea that the antagonist was behind the side quest. For example, Ender didn't know that the government wanted him to have dreadful conflicts with other students, but the readers knew. As long as the readers know the side quest was caused by the antagonist, they will accept it as part of the plot and dangle on the edge of their seats until the side quest is completed.

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 09, 2005).]


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Elan
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I agree that GAMERS don't necessarily make good WRITERS. I am gamemaster in an online RPG Play by Email... it's hard to convey the nuances between writing and gaming to new players.

For example, I have a new player who seems to want to create something my co-GM describes as a "furry"... an animal that has totally human behaviors. The player can't seem to comprehend that there is a believability issue with the character she wants to create, or that there is no way to insert it into a novel in progress with no hstory of "furries" in it.

Writers know the difference between gaming and writing. Gamers rarely do.


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AstroStewart
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Wow, these are alot of good ideas and insights. It's given me alot to think about. Thanks everyone =)
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