Ciao, SEers. Today we’re going to discuss our fifth of the Seven Basic Plots as defined by Christopher Booker. If you’ve missed the others, you can find them here: Rebirth, Tragedy, Comedy, and Voyage and Return.
Today’s post covers the basic plot type: Quest.
The Quest is a familiar plot type. It shows our hero (and friends) taking a journey to a far-off place in order to achieve an object or a goal. There must be many dangers along the way (it wouldn’t be much of a quest if the goal was easy to attain), but ultimately, victory is achieved.
The Quest, unlike the Voyage and Return, always ends with the hero achieving his goal, even if it takes the scope of several books or movies to do so. (It’s worth noting that achieving a goal DOES NOT necessarily equate to a happy, or successful, outcome.)
The following is a list of Quest storylines:
- Lord of the Rings
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Around the World in Eighty Days
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Here is the basic template for writing a Quest. I’ll use Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as my example.
- The Call
This is the part of the story where the hero is given his task. Stakes are high, and victory can’t be achieved by any other means.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore insists Harry should have special instruction this year—by him—which will help them with their mission to defeat Voldemort’s. Ultimately, they seek horcruxes. The stakes are high—horcruxes are the key to defeating the Dark Lord.
- The Journey
The process to achieve the goal is a difficult one. For every step forward, it seems the hero takes two steps back.
Harry’s setbacks begin even before he goes to the cave. He has trouble retrieving the memory Dumbledore needs. He battles with Draco Malfoy. Ron almost dies. Often as he tries to solve one of these issues, he fails. Even when he finally does conquer the problem, another arises.
- Arrival and Frustration
This is where the hero arrives at his destination. Things aren’t so simple, though. There are still ordeals to overcome before he achieves his goal.
Harry and Dumbledore reach the cave. But there are so many more trials to their ordeal. Blood must be sacrificed to open the cave mouth. Magic is needed to summon the boat.
- Final Ordeal
At last, the hero has their goal in sight. This is where the ultimate test occurs. (This is often, but doesn’t have to be, a set of three tasks.)
Torture and horrors await as they drain the basin. Harry must find water to help his mentor. Inferi rise from the depths of the lake to stop them.
- The Goal
The goal is now met. Something is retrieved or destroyed or acquired. Success is achieved. Remember, though—just because the quest is over (and successful) doesn’t mean a happy ending.
Harry and Dumbledore take the locket back to Hogwarts. A whole other series of problems await them there. But when Harry is finally able to analyze the locket, he discovers it isn’t what’s he was looking for at all. He did, indeed, achieve his goal of retrieving the object, but it wasn’t the object he had hoped. And it comes at considerable cost. (It is worth noting that his quest continues in book seven, but the results there would require a whole other post to analyze.)
Quests are among the most popular of stories because they are epic tales of heroes overcoming challenges, often in exotic locales and against seemingly insurmountable odds. Who doesn’t root for a hero, especially if he’s an underdog?
Have you written a quest? Do you have a favorite quest story or author who writes them? (I already know a few popular stories that are going to be mentioned, but shout them out, anyway.) Let’s talk about it below.