Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tangled Quest

I am going on week two stuck in a house full of germs. My germs are gone, but the monkeys spent my week of convalescence busily contracting some other nasty virus and so it goes. My one trip out in the last eleven days has been to the grocery store with a stop by 7-11 for some gas and it was fraught with peril. I stood in line to pay for my gas and watched no less than three people rummage around in the 7-11 doughnut case with their bare hands. I almost fainted. They didn't just grab the doughnut they would eat and walk away; they rummaged. That is a crime against pastry and humanity if ever I saw one. If I had felt better, I might have had an apoplectic screaming fit. Instead, I stood and closed my eyes and got the head-to-toe willies and vowed never to eat a doughnut from 7-11 again. This is all tertiary to my point.

When I am bed-ridden for long stretches of time, I turn to my trusty friends between the covers of books and who live in the TV screen for tales of adventure and daring. So it has been that I've been holed up, vicariously slaying vampires, casting spells, and saving the galaxy. And because there is a certain kind of madness in a writerly mind that is only exacerbated by isolation and delirium, I can't just watch or read, I have to deconstruct.

My dementia is your gain for lo, I have constructed a spread sheet of deconstruction to share with you, my loyal readers. Is it adventure or a quest story you seek? Now it is at your fingertips. Go ye into the wild and write a best-selling series with this information, carefully curated by a madwoman on the brink of collapse.

Some definitions for interpretation of figure 1.

Orphan - (or near-orphan.) This seems essential for the whole Quest protagonist thing. Probably so they can go gallivanting around fighting the forces of evil without having to check in for dinner. Also because it adds to the aura of isolation and loneliness inherent in having the fate of the world rest upon your shoulders.

Impossible Quest - Also essential, obviously, for a Quest story. It must be gigantic and seemingly impossible. It should be utterly ridiculous that the aforementioned Orphan be expected to complete it. It should involve terrible odds and certain death.

Enigmatic Old Man - This is the guy who stands in as a kind of surrogate father figure with whom the Orphan forms an almost immediate and somewhat unhealthy attachment (probably because they are an Orphan.) The Enigmatic Old Man also fades in and out of the story, at times seeming to abandon the Orphan when he/she needs him most and almost certainly never gives the Orphan enough information to complete the Impossible Quest, even if they know it. Usually dies or goes back to England at some point.

Rake - This is the guy who is undeniably sexy and usually has some kind of dark secret or past. They generally serve as a love interest for someone in the story and for the readers/viewers. They are usually a little rough, but painfully lovable.

Smart Girl - She's the one who figures out most of the Quest for the Orphan. She's the one who gets little credit in the long run, but without her brains, everyone would be dead many times over. She also usually gets kidnapped (sometimes repeatedly) to get to the Orphan.

Muscle - This is the one you want on your side in a fight. Usually huge and hairy, almost invincible and readily available for the ripping off of arms or wielding a giant ax. They're the one that you panic a little bit if something happens to them because then the chance of the Orphan winning any kind of fisticuffs becomes all the more bleak.

Loyal, Goofy Friend - These are personally my favorite characters. They are the stalwart ones who possess no particular super powers except those of unfailing loyalty and strength of character. They take abuse, rejection and dismissal from the Orphan in turns and rarely give up. They are the real heroes of the stories.

Slippery Fellow - These are the characters whose intentions are suspect, who have flirted with evil, who appear on the surface to be enemies, but ultimately end up assisting the Orphan with their Quest in pretty integral ways. They can never fully be trusted, but are often some of the most interesting, ambiguous characters.

Unspeakably Evil Entity - These are given name and bodily form, but usually they tend to be somewhat too evil, and thus rather flat. They are only a construct in the story anyway, because everyone knows that the Orphans' real battles are with their own darker selves and once they have conquered or accepted their darker natures, the final battle with the Evil Entity is kind of no sweat and much more surmountable than initially conceived.

Fig. 1 - Quest Matrix

I have picked a few of my favorite Quest stories for my chart. What are your favorites? Can you think of any others? Can you write a Quest story about your life using these character descriptions? Are you now all set to write your own bestselling series and become as rich as Rowling and as influential to pop culture as Lucas and Whedon?

Go forth and conquer.


  1. So sorry you have been sick, but you put that time to good use! This post made me laugh! :)

  2. You picked my two favorites - Harry and Lord of the Rings. Being sick is icky. And I thought you were going to say that you saw someone rummaging around in the garbage for donuts while you were pumping your gas. Bad enough, but kind of understandable. Rummaging around, bare handed, in a donut case is DISGUSTING!!! He could have just sneezed into his hand, or picked his nose, or something equally gross. Ick. ick. ick.

    Feel better soon - - you and yours!

  3. Wow! I love that you do this when you're sick. All I do is catalog children's books along broad themes when I'm laid up and file this on my desktop under "Homeschooling" (because I have no category called "Mental Masturbation" there). I have spent the last five minutes trying to see if my memoir can be thought of along these lines. I am little worried that the Unspeakably Evil Entity might also be the Orphan in this plot. I'm glad you survived the cholera, by the way.

  4. It's like seeing the formula for a best seller all spelled out.

  5. Suppressing giggles while trying to pay attention to tv with my husband...LOL you are so smart and funny!! I am not very good at flow charts. But this breakdown is incredible. So very, very sorry about those donuts!! Feel better and stay that way Momma... xoxo

  6. Boom! I admit to looking for those things not only in the books I read, but during class. I look around and judge and see who would fit what role. It's a sickness.

    Thanks for linking up TangledLou. Thank you. (:

  7. You are the most productive sick person I have ever met, you chart-maker you. I love how your mind works.

  8. I like to play video games. Not those shoot em up kind. What are known as Role Playing Games, which are basically interactive quest novels/movies. The best ones have ALL of the characters you mention. The only thing different about them than most novels is that the orphans are almost always under 18 (usually about 16) and have freaky hair.

    Hope you get better soon, if it is anything like what we have it is not fun.

  9. Doughnuts for sale at 7 11 are a crime against pastries and humanity.
    We've only been sick since Sunday - hope you are feeling better soon.

  10. Thank you for the breakdown and chart - I was thinking Buffy and Xena before I scrolled down to your list. Very obvious once pointed out.

  11. I specifically gave Haven two living parents because the orphan thing bugs me so much. Man-handled doughnuts bugs me, too.

  12. I am soooo busted for removing the parents from one of my WIP's. In my defense they're not dead, just not that different??

    Hope you are starting to feel better. My two days ill in bed have been productively spent catching up on blogs, however I have sooo much to catch up on I think I need three weeks in bed (now there's a plan) ;-)


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