OK so I confess I am stuck...

I am 23. When I was 14 I started writing a novel. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a fantasy novel, but I always hoped I would avoid being too unreal by the power of my characters (my best feature as a writer). As I passed through puberty I became increasingly annoyed at my own lack of sophistication in my writing, and finally abandoned it threatening to come back and write about life when I’ve actually had one.

Now to the problem; I want to come back but I have always had this black hole about plots. I think I may have been influenced by David Eddings a bit too much as a youngster, as I envisaged this plot as a journey taken by my protagonists, who increase in number as they travel, before finally arriving at a battle, denouement, and conclusion. What has always baffled me is why they are travelling. No amount of shitty prophecying has seemed to fill the void. What are the basic plots of life? Why would a group of people randomly go on a journey, adding others to the group as they went? What reason could possibly be sufficiently un-cliche in a fantasy genre?

I am prepared to take all suggestions very seriously! Thankyou in advance,


Hello, Skybluemornings…
You mgith find it interesting to revisit Mutiny on the Bounty, and Red River (same story, different setting),
as well as Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. All are about groups of people who travel,
come together, come apart, and come to life.

All the best,


Why do people travel in our world? Interview 30 people on a bus, and you’ll get 30 different reasons, from the grandmother going to visit her kids to the homeless guy who rides the bus because it’s cheap and no one bothers you.

As I see it, the basic problem with the fantasy quest cliche is that the journey is not only defined as a quest from the very beginning, but it’s the same quest for all the participants. What would happen if you had travelers going in the same direction for different reasons, joining a group for their own reasons, and then finding the quest has come to them, whether they want it or not?

Good luck!


As a reader, and not a writer: The reason the group is travelling, as a group to a stated destination ( if thats what youre referring to; the group), could be as daft as something as simple as joining the mercenary Stockport Foreign Legion, for example.

Its why`, each member of the group wants to join the SFL, that matters, surely? As too, does their interaction en route. Therein lies you story.

Your tale`s denouement is just that, nothing more. The unavoidable cliche-itus endured whist writing your saga, is nothing more than a series of coat pegs upon which to hang your tale. IMHO.

Many of the writers in these forums, I suspect, would pepper their advice with phrases like, “Just start writing, and even if youre churning out utter crap, dont stop because its crap. Stop when youve had enough for one day. Leave it.
When you return in the morning, you`ll think the Elves have been during the night, and rearranged the crap, into a couple of feasible possibilitiesâ€

I`ve just realised Katherine has posted virtually the same sceanario I have.

No plagiarism intended Katherine. Honestly :wink:


Skybluemornings - I started writing at age 14 as well, and it took me almost 20 years to have my first novel published (and still no sophistication in my writing in sight :wink: ). And this novel was a fantasy novel with, well, a group of people who travel, and later the protagonist discovers, ahem, a prophecy …

In a fantasy novel no one travels for fun, but everyone HAS TO. So what’s the deal? Were their homes destroyed? Do they flee? Do they look for something? Whatever it is - it’s got to be fundamental.

Then - what’s going on during the travel? What are the obstacles? What delays the travel, what makes them change plans? Are other fractions on the road that have the same goal, that might interfere? What is the group dynamic among the travellers?

Remember that fantasy is not so much a genre for itself, but employs many dramatic aspects from other genres. You might tell a simple traveller’s tale, or a thriller, or a love story.

Quite often it’s a wise woman in the mountains who is the only person on earth who can tell them what they are looking for… or something!

But realisticall, travelling can be a series of small journeys end on end. Searching for something that keeps eluding them, or gathering troops or information, or just a journey that develops with the intial reason for travelling changing as they get to each new section.

I thought it was always a wise, old man.


Wise old man = dirty old man?

Or is this mythical “he” the antithesis?

As to journeys: Some wise person, whose name and gender both escape me at the moment, observed that there are only two basic plots in literature.

  1. Someone leaves town.
  2. Someone new comes to town.


Let me argue on the flipside for a moment. The reason Eddings, along with so much other “mainstream” fantasy have the structure they do is because that narrative structure is more or less hardwired into our brains. Seriously. Read The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. There’s a certain narrative edifice that goes along with the Hero tale. Star Wars pretty much follows this arc to a T. So it’s kind of a binary phenomenon – you want to write a Hero story, but readers tend to viscerally resonate with Hero stories in a certain structure. You’re no weaker as a writer for being a slave to the same pressures that have shaped human storytelling since wew first squared up around a fire.

That said, I always find it easiest to build “reasons” as a sort of relational tree. Example:

Persons A and B are traveling to place Z because of prophecy/necessity/the central point of your book (or, hey, maybe NOT the central point of your book).

Person C decides to come along because she thinks they’re cute and wants to protect the poor bumpkins from the big bad world.

Person D used to be in love with Person C and has been following her across the world trying to win her back.

Person E is a hitchhiker who also happens to be a master swordsman. He’s along for the ride because, well, “he’ll most likely get off the train at the next town, but until then, it’s been fun.”

Person F tries to make persons A and B think that he’s like Person C, but really, he’s an evil bastard who just wants to steal The MacGuffin. In the process, perhaps he might or might not find redemption.

Person G is the religious nut who really believes she was given a mission from God/Prophecy/Whatever. Everyone else thinks she’s nuts, right up until the point she calls lightning out of a clear sky.

As others have said better than I ever will, it’s best to think about characters as people rather than as professions. Who they are in the context of the larger quest becomes ancillary. In fact, it’s probably more interesting for “Random Dude #78” to have to pick up a sword and fight for himself, even though all he’s got is desperation, rather than having The Fighter be there to take care of any physical threats. So hell, just pick a random group, and don’t worry about why they’re all TOGETHER. Just focus on why each person is there.

Hope this helps,


:smiley: Wow what a brilliant lot of replies! I particularly like the idea of the relationship tree. Will let you know how I go :slight_smile:

At some point, however, reality intrudes. Random Dude #78, picking up a sword and fighting with nothing but desperation, is quite likely to get slaughtered by anyone good. (This is a critical difference between swords and, say, automatic weapons. It’s also one of the most common mistakes in bad fantasy. The other is horses that behave like trucks.) So having The Fighter around will increase the party’s survival chances substantially.

Of course, how he got to be The Fighter can be a long and entertaining tale of its own.


They are probably all looking for the next plot coupon.

Less facetiously: most people until very recently in history (perhaps even now) didn’t travel far unless they had to. They left because conditions where they lived were intolerable: that is, they were refugees of one kind or another. Or because they were sent by someone with authority over them, as in Endo Shusaku’s ‘The Samurai’ in which a low-ranking samurai – essentially a farmer – is summoned from the fields and sent by his lord on a diplomatic mission to Rome.

You might consider whether there could be something pushing your protagonists to leave, as well as something pulling them towards a destination. (Edit: I’ve only just noticed that Typo suggested something like this above.)

The state of being a refugee has always been pretty common, though. For instance, several of the Protestant denominations spread through Europe thanks to refugees from religious persecution and/or war. Likewise the state of being sent off to war by some authority. Certain groups–intellectuals, diplomats, and merchants, for example–traveled quite a lot, even by modern standards. Before modern communications, the only way to have a private and/or real time conversation with someone was to see them face-to-face. (Mail being slow and insecure.)


As someone who also found plot a real bear to wrestle with, and now have a totally different outlook, I can offer some principles which helped me:

Remember your Hitchcock. (And if you don’t know Hitchcock, start!) Hitchcock is famous for his use of the MacGuffin; the thing that starts the plot turning. It could be anything, and by the time you got to the end of the movie, it was totally unimportant. North by Northwest, a particular favorite, starts with Cary Grant’s character acknowledging a page in a hotel. Only someone else thinks he is answering a page for another name, and before you know it there’s near death in a cornfield and he’s hanging from Lincoln’s nose.

Plot is always a case of one thing leading to another. But it should be, most of the time, leading to something the characters, and thus the reader, does not expect. It can start with something as simple as a character going out to milk the goat… only the goat is gone, and there’s a baby dragon there instead. Complications ensue!

I learned a lot from John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. He would always have a scene where the characters planned their next move. It was a great way to get backstory in, and avoided what I call the As-You-Know-Johnson moments. (As in, “As you know, Johnson, you are the ultimate authority on the mating habits of the tree sloth.” Yes, Johnson knows that, she’s only spent her life studying it!) Only, once the plan got going, it never went the way that looked so inevitable in the planning. So the reader enjoys both the planning AND the way the plan does not work out.

Plot springs from character, so good characters should never be at a loss as to what to do. Have them do whatever fits their character. Inevitably, a good character has character flaws, and that’s going to cause trouble. Trouble is the meat of plot. You can’t have too much.

One thing I realized very young was from, of all places, the old TV series Lost in Space. All the characters were such goodie-goodies they never would have gotten into trouble without Dr. Smith. He was annoying, selfish, short-sighted, and venal. And they wouldn’t have had plots at all without him.

Great advice werebear, and beautifully written. How’s the weather in the mountains by the way?
Must be just about ready to snap, if it hasn’t already. Always one of my favorite times of the
year in a very special place. I’ve spent several falls in Paul Smith’s (if you can even say there’s
an “in” in Paul Smith’s).



I d have thought that you wouldve sussed out the fact that,: Smith is one of us and the insufferable goody goody others are all aliens, tch! tch! :confused:


Well, as I said, I was very young…

Thanks for the compliment, Tim. Aww, we don’t have “weather” yet. Temps in the 20’s, and not a lot of snow. The leaves turned a couple of weeks ago, for good, but dang! was it nice while it lasted.

Come on back!

To answer one of your questions “Why people always seem to travel.”

I will answer this with an analogy.

A cooking show.

A cooking show you ask?

Yes. It is simple. On a cooking show they demonstrate how to cook something you have never heard of with tools you have never seen nor know where to buy, and use ingredients no sane person has in there kitchen. So simply put you watch the show for something NEW that is NOT a part of your everyday life. :slight_smile:

Then you are forced that if you wish to attempt what they are doing you must travel and explore and find places you have no clue where they are or what they carry in order to prepare yourself for the “final battle.”

So you leave you house and venture out into the world first to get the needed ingredients. You do this by researching or talking to people and getting directions. Once you obtain the ingredients you then set forth to obtain the right cooking utensils (weapons) which ungodly costly and seldom used. After obtaining those you wind up back at your place fighting the “final battle” and in the end it tastes terrible.


Sci-Fi is a cooking show.

Most Sci-Fi are based in “new worlds” since these worlds are unexplored many writers “travel” to open different lands and scenery that is building the world.

Now if you look at some sci-fi books that are based in the real life world and cities (example Shadowrun series) you find that travelling is less needed because the reader already “knows” in a general way and new scenery/world building is less needed.

What is tricky is if you are building a world how to expand the reader’s “knowledge” of the world without travelling as the main source of world building. The trick is having different characters in different lands telling different stories of what is happening to them. Building small “bubbles” of different characters with different story sub-plots and reasoning. Then finally tying all of these small stories into one big story like a tapestry.

Either that or find the nearest horse/dragon/ship and start exploring.


PS: Do not give up on your writing. Your writing will change, mature, take different directions, etc everyday of your life.

Deep down if you have a story to tell then tell it. Who cares about proper plots, character development, etc, etc, etc.

Write what you feel and go with your gut. After you are done THEN refine it a bit but ALWAYS dip your brush!.

A painter who sees paintings in their head but never puts it on canvas isn’t a painter. Just a thinker.

This is exactly how I’ve been until now - thinking and doodling, but never actually putting the work into it. The fact that I have finally started putting my characters into action is extremely liberating.

Plus this topic highlights many of the things that are naturally happening in my manuscript, and I was quite naive to begin with. I didn’t realise that templates even existed. I’ve found it interesting to read about this, as it’s helped me to define my characters motivation for travelling (which of course, she has to do - and in fact starts off doing).