Monday, February 21, 2011


Today we are continuing the plot series with the Master Plot: Quest.

What is this master plot?

Many movies are based on this plot. My book, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, has quest as its plot. The book I’m currently reading, “20 Master Plots and how to build them,” by Ronald B. Tobias, has a clear and concise outline of this plot. In this plot the protagonist, (hero), is on a mission to find a person, place or thing. Either tangible or intangible.
Basically you have 3 acts.

Act one:
Your protagonist is in their usual setting, the place that is normal for them. In “The Treasures of Carmelidrium,” my heroine, Missie, is performing her flute for a mid-term recital. In many ways, this is her home, the place where she feels comfortable.

Then something happens to make the protagonist act. Either she makes a choice to accept a challenge or she finds herself in a situation where there is no other alternative. In, “The Treasures of Carmelidrium,” Missie is thrust thrown a portal into a medieval French speaking world. Here in Gil-Lael, she learns that her music has magical powers to heal, to destroy and to empower, ‘The Treasures of Carmelidrium.” She doesn’t really believe this at first and her self discovery is one of many sub plots along the way. However, in the beginning she must choose, do I help defeat the bad guy, or do I refuse? Remember, your protagonist must face decisions at every turn and every decision they make will propel the story forward for better or worse.

Act two:
This is the middle and the majority of your book. In act two the protagonist must experience many challenges, make multiple decisions, cross barriers in her path to find the desired element that you have established as her quest. The more you layer in problems that the protagonist must face and overcome the more tension you create. In, “The Treasures of Carmelidrium,” Missie is attacked by symberveen, giant eagles, ravens and men. While Prince Healden is in love with her, she doesn’t trust his love. Society doesn’t trust her and is suspicious of her motives because of their legends. Additional legends are revealed throughout the plot to enhance the feel of this world and create more tension for Missie. She feels trapped. Yet with Healden’s patience and guidance she wades through the murky waters of Gil-Lael.

There is a large cast of characters for this plot, quest. Your protagonist will need helpers along her journey and there will also be those who appear to be helpers but aren’t. Add a jester or fool character to break up the tension and insert humor. Now that last is one that I have often wondered about. Basically this character can be many. In, “Star Wars,” it was a robot. It can also be an animal or a prop that you select the character to own or have access too. In, “The Treasures of Carmelidrium,” I often use the differences in language to insert humor. Imagine the dialogue exchange between a 21st century, modern American young woman, and a 15th century, medieval prince and you get my drift.

Act three:
Climax and more. This is where all the threads that you have carefully woven are tied in knots. If you aren’t careful, your plot will unravel. Once your protagonist reaches their goal, and the problems are resolved, then you have a moment to reflect. Did your character achieve their goal? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Not all quest plots end with the desired result. Here is where we see the characters growth that has slowly taken place throughout the book. Perhaps, after the final battle, after the final realization, or whatever challenge you have created, the protagonist has the object of their quest. But is it the object they believed they wanted? If not, what did they really want instead? Or how is the object different then what they thought it would be?

Wrap up:
90% of quest plots end with the protagonist back where they were originally. But not all of them end there. Sometimes “home” is not the “home” they envisioned.

In short, the quest involves a character who changes as they travel through their journey seeking an item, or place, or person, that they believe to be important, on their way to whatever end you have chosen.

In this short blog post, I don’t have the room to go into the detail that this book does. If you are new to writing, or if you just need to refresh what you have learned about plots, I recommend you buy, 20 Master Plots and how to build them, by Ronald B. Tobias. Another excellent book that I have previously talked about is, The Writer’s Journey, 3rd edition, by Christopher Vogler.

Are your characters seeking a person, place or thing?


The Writer's Journey, Amazon link: 20 Master Plots and how to build them, Amazon link:


Dominic de Mattos said...

Hi Nancy

Thanks for sharing. It's interesting - do these "master plots" work simply because they follow routes that have become familiar to us? So our stories follow the same paths and those that follow will write the same because they become familiar with our work? Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise, but it is. You'd think that freshness and inventiveness would be highly prized, but I wonder if in fact it would be unsettling? Something to ponder!

Have a good week


Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Hey, I haven't heard of that writing book. Which I didn't think was possible. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

Plotting is a plot all by itself. Thanks for this brief tour through one way to get it done. I'm still in the very early thinking stages of plot for my next project.

Abby Minard said...

OH wow, this is exactly how my book is. I write YA fantasy, and this seems like a pretty common formula. As I was reading I could check everything you said off for being in my ms! Thanks Nancy!

Misha said...

Great post!

My characters seek different things. Some seek people. Some seek things.

Some get things they didn't expect.


Holly Ruggiero said...

Nice delineation of a quest.

gideon 86 said...

Great post, Nancy,

Quest is in my first novel. Having it lined out really helps to see if we accomplished "our" quest.


N. R. Williams said...

Yes Dom, there truly is nothing new under the sun.

Hi Bryan, it does seem that there are a lot of writing books.

You're welcome Carol.

Hi Abby, I do think we get wrapped up in the story and forget the plot. That's not always a bad thing.

Misha, they shouldn't always get what they want and often, what they thought they wanted isn't it at all.

Thank you Holly.

You're right Michael, it's nice to have a check list.

Thank you all for dropping in.

Jules said...

Great post Nancy. Just dropping in to check on you :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

The Golden Eagle said...

Great post!

Most of my characters are after things--both in the story I'm now editing and the one I recently started.

N. R. Williams said...

Nice to see you Jules.

I think my next book will follow this plot too, Golden.

Thank you both for leaving a comment.

Clarissa Draper said...

I never thought of that before. That most heroes end up back at home. But it's so true. I've read parts of that book before, it's wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

N. R. Williams said...

You're welcome, Clarissa.

Pat Tillett said...

Very interesting and informative!

N. R. Williams said...

You're welcome Pat.