Basic Plots: Quest

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
  • Odyssey
  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Staci Troilo

48 thoughts on “Basic Plots: Quest

  1. Reblogged this on Author -Carole Parkes and commented:

    I didn’t really believe in the idea of only having a limited number of story plots, seven in this case, but my thriller, ‘YOUR LAST BREATH’, certainly falls into the quest category.

    My main character is trying to achieve his goal of becoming an author. He wants to write suspenseful crime thrillers, but every time he tries to write about the horrific murder scenes necessary for his plot, his mind goes blank. A chance meeting with old flame, Valerie, changes all that. She wants to commit suicide. Fearing she’ll end up in hell if she does it and not in heaven where she imagines her beloved husband has recently gone, she pleads with our would-be writer to help her.
    Reluctantly, he agrees, but after a harsh exchange of words with her, the deed is accomplished. He accidentally breathes in the dying woman’s last breath, and on returning home discovers his writer’s block has disappeared. Now he can write his murder scenes with a clarity previously unknown to him.

    Unfortunately, his new-found ability doesn’t last long and in a few days he’s back to struggling. Was it a fluke? Did actually committing the crime give him the ability to write about those gruesome scenes? There was only one way to find out…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Basic Plots: Quest — Story Empire | Clairsentient1

    • Great list, Yvette. I’m embarrassed to admit that this weekend, for the very first time, I watched the LOTR trilogy. The first one, not the new one. Haven’t seen that yet. I love a good quest story; I don’t know why it took me so long. Well, I have a theory, but here and now it isn’t the place and time for that discussion.

      Thanks for weighing in!

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, no new one. That’s just how behind I am. I’m talking about the “Desolation of Smaug” titles. (There’s a trilogy of them, I think, but this is the only title I remember.) I haven’t even looked to see if they’re on Netflix or Prime. It’ll probably be another decade before I watch them.

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  3. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  4. One of my favorite quest series is J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. From Wikipedia:The Black Dagger Brotherhood is an ongoing series of paranormal romance books by author J. R. Ward. The series focuses on a society of vampire warriors who live together and defend their race against de-souled humans called lessers.
    There must be something like fifteen books in the series to date and the over-reaching arc still holds interest. She does a fantastic job of world-building and characterization.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You don’t need to explain that saga to me. I’ve been a fan for years. And I agree; she does an excellent job at world-building. But I think the series is going on too long. I’d rather her wrap it up than keep expanding it. Maybe spin off to go in a different direction. For a while, she was going back to earlier Brothers rather than pairing off the single Brotherhood members she has left. And now she has that side series that’s related but isn’t. I’m ready for her to wrap it all up. (I’m also not thrilled at the price of her eBooks, but that’s a subject for another post.)

      One thing I can’t take away from her, though, is her characterization. The cast of Brothers is huge, and they all have different personalities and voices. For that alone, she should be commended.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think she tried to give the BDB a rest, but her fans cried for more so she came back with the next generation.
        As to pricing, isn’t she traditional? She wouldn’t have a choice over the cost then, right?

        Liked by 1 person

      • She is traditional, and I have no idea if she (being a big name) has any say in the price. But I stopped buying them about three books ago. I guess I’m never going to know what happened to the Scribe Virgin or how they beat the Lessers. Which is sad, because in the beginning, I really wanted to know!

        I read the first of her Bourbon series. It was pretty good. (Not that it’s a quest.) I haven’t bought the others.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I love quest stories! A lot of epic fantasy plays off them. Our own P.H. Solomon did a wonderful job with the quest story line in his Bow of Hart saga.
    Waaay back in the day I wrote several quest stories, all fantasy, including a (mostly complete) trilogy. I finished two books and made it halfway through the third before abandoning it in favor of writing romantic mysteries. I also did a few shorts centered around quests. I was looking over one the other day and debating what I want to do with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I believe several of my stories might qualify. They aren’t as direct as chasing the Arc of the Covenant though. Patty Hall didn’t want to get killed, and had to accomplish some things to stave that off. It seems the quest element doesn’t come into my tales for a few chapters. The closest one was when the President sent the Marshals to Panama. They had a goal to accomplish right away.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I tend to see all of my stories as quests because there’s always some kind of goal. Maybe I just look at it with a broader brush than most, so a story about getting your shoes on can be seen as quest to me. One story I keep thinking about when reading this post is King Arthur. The search for the Holy Grail is one of the most popular tales and it had so much disaster in it. So, there’s always a sense of sacrifice and pain that I associate with accomplishing a quest. What about a quest where the goal isn’t as clear cut? Like the character sets off, but is torn between wanting one of two outcomes or isn’t really concerned with the ending that they get.

    Liked by 3 people

    • King Arthur is a great example (and one of my favorite tales).

      The two-outcomes option is intriguing. Is it a quest if the quester doesn’t care so much about the goal? I don’t know. I guess (being more interested in characters than plots, anyway) I wonder if the character is enough to keep my interest if he’s ambivalent about his outcome. Food for thought…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, I’m testing that idea right now with my new release. The main character starts off depressed and emotionally broken after what happened to her in my big series. So, she takes on the challenge of a monster-filled city with the hope that it will either give her a purpose or get her killed. I gave her a weird apathy to her own fate, which makes it difficult for her to push for either option. All she does, at least at the start, is fight with wild abandon and lets the chips fall where they may. Can’t be sure if it’s a true quest though, which is rough because the word is in the title. There are quests that have those looking for inner peace or a place to belong. Very similar to the voyage concept in a way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think her apathy and desperation would actually compel me to read her story—I’d want to know what finally happens to make her care, or if she never does, why, and did she die before she began to care, or is she permanently damaged? I wouldn’t worry so much whether it’s a “true” quest and just focus on delivering on her journey.

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  8. I’m loving these posts on the seven basic plots. I finally bought a copy of Christopher Booker’s book, which is now sitting on my shelf looking pretty, lols … I WILL get around to actually reading it one of these days! My first book, The Battle for Brisingamen, has strong elements of a quest, where one of the main characters has to retrieve and protect a necklace of great power while also preventing the destruction of a magical world beneath the North Sea. The Fionavar series by Guy Gavriel Kay involves quests to save the first world, such as finding and destroying a giant cauldron, amongst other things. I love this kind of a plot. Thanks for sharing, Staci! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Basic Plots: Quest — Story Empire | tabletkitabesi

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