All for One – or Not: How a leadership course changed my view of quests
A few years ago, I was in a leadership course. Thirteen of us sitting in a room where we had to select, design, and create a group project. Lesson 1: thirteen people reaching an agreement is very, very difficult!
So, on an epic fantasy quest… why does everyone seem to have one goal?
I’ve read (and admittedly often loved) so many quest stories where everyone is focused on the goal. Arguments are miniscule. Group cohesion is awesome. The quest will be conquered!
Apparently they have never been to a leadership course.
Oh, we got there in the end. But it was a long haul with lots of side dialogue, an intervention by our advisors at one point, and then a desperate decision to form subgroups to keep the process going (ok, make it go anywhere). And there wasn’t a grade involved. Our jobs were not on the line. We received a plaque. It wasn’t even gold. No life and death. No monetary reward. We volunteered. But it was an epic undertaking! And it wasn’t smooth, beautiful, or straight forward. If our ‘guides’ hadn’t intervened when they did, we might have failed.
Sure, you can argue that life and death circumstances will make everyone pull together for a common goal or that the situation in the story demands cohesion. But really? I would think the tension would create greater second guessing. Having been in a few tricky situations while touring on my motorcycle, ones involving failing electronics and a leaking tire, I’ve had plenty of doubts and questions if going on is the best decision. When do you turn around? When have you gone too far to go back? The line between adventure, risky situation, and very nearly deadly experience isn’t that clear when you are in the situation – only later when you are sitting in a pub shaking from head to toe.
Besides the ambiguity of danger, if you put several leader-type people together and expect no internal competition or doubts then you really are in a flat fantasy story. Throwing in a life or death quest unite some people. It might make others dig in their heels and demand a better plan. If a loved one is going to be put at risk… oh heck, a fist fight is going to break out at some point!
What this leads up to is that building interest and tension between big action events in a novel can be done without hurling one ogre after another at the intrepid questers. Sure, life and death scenes are dramatic, but add one too many and the plot starts to feel a little repetitive, especially if no one dies. But adding disagreement can bring a new level of tension and depth to a story!
In a quest as in life (and leadership courses), not everyone will be in accord. Even the ‘leader’ can have doubts or make a wrong decision that feels right at the time. Someone is going to say ‘I told you so.’ Conflict is not just about a physical struggle or between enemies. It can be internal. It can be between good friends that aren’t seeing eye to eye.
One good way to show the disagreement, especially the sort that is bubbling under the surface, is to switch views. And that is why I love writing in multiple POVs! Those side conversations I remember from my leadership course can take place away from the main group and not heard by everyone. The temptation to compete between two leaders, the arguments, moments (and confessions) of doubt, pleas (or bargaining) for agreement play out between characters with a few succinct lines of dialogue, a choice action or hesitation here and there. Seed the text to build a different tension that can put so much more than friendship in doubt.
As you might guess from this post, the quest to save Ria’s life in my epic fantasy trilogy the Rise of the Fifth Order doesn’t go smoothly. In fact, a few might question if that is the actual quest. Darag joins to save his wife, who is Ria’s best friend. His decisions entangle him in the overarching theme that magic is related to the abilities of Elementals, but his connection to Ria remains distant. She is not his main focus.
And the same is true with others. Zhao joins the quest because he dislikes the strict rules enforced by his people. His choice, fairly shallow admittedly, draws him into the heart of the conflict… eventually. Khodan too doesn’t join so much as wind up a part of the action. His presence, and personal goals, nearly unravels everything – well everything that a few of the characters think is the quest!
And yes, as the POVs ratchet up to seven in the questers along with quite a few important characters whose POVs are never entered, the group does have to split up to keep a momentum going. Which sort of works… for some. Depends on what group you end up in! 😉
If you like the idea and want to delve into it more, you can get book 1 of the series, Born of Water, for free right now. Follow the links here to see where.
Readers and writers – what about you? How do you like to see quests evolve?