Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Quest

The quest appears within a number of fantasy stories. Just the word itself can send shivers up my spine, but a poorly written one sends those shivers into my stomach. There must be an art to writing a quest story well, so I humbly submit a few ideas on the topic.

A good quest ought to be difficult to achieve. Slaying a dragon alone might not be that difficult (unoriginality aside) unless the character intending to do the slaying has no arms. There ought to be a lot of effort involved in accomplishing the deed, or why else would it be told? I don't tell stories of going to the post office and mailing a package because anyone can do that, and it's relatively painless (except in late March). I would, however, tell a story of hand delivering a package to the international space station using a rocket I constructed in my backyard. (No, I'm not becoming a science-fiction writer; if this ever happens it will be science fact!)

Besides the difficulty level, the protagonist (assuming the protagonist is trying to fulfill the quest) should not know what it takes to complete the mission. He or she may have quite a bit of self-confidence and think the answer is in his or her mind, but those thoughts should prove only partially correct at best. The answer should come as part of the journey. Perhaps there is an item or special knowledge required, but whatever the case, this should be absent when the journey begins.

Regardless of whether the quest ends successfully or in pitiful failure, it ought to impact the protagonist in a profound way. If the main character of the story remains unchanged, this quest was worthless, even if it resulted in saving billions of lives. The prize itself isn't significant if it doesn't alter the winner or loser in some aspect. It doesn't really matter if this resulting change is for the better or worse, but a great quest will leave its mark upon those who undertake it.

Crafting this type of story well often proves itself to be a quest for the author. If you've recently written one, ask yourself if it meets the criteria I've listed, but don't stop on those three points. These are just some of the main ingredients. Perhaps I'll list a few more in a future post.

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