By Laura Campbell
A great fantasy novel hinges on several things, and two of these are the plot and character development. If you don’t have a plot, you don’t have a story – your characters hang around and do nothing. That would be… well… pretty boring. If there is no character development, people won’t care about the story, or they won’t find it very believable. After all, what kind of person goes through life without changing? That said, this is why plot and character development go hand in hand – each has an impact on the other. What a character experiences will affect what kind of person he or she is – what kind of person a character is will affect how he or she reacts to events and situations during the plot.
Let’s start off with looking at different plots that are typical to fantasy stories.
To name a few, of which a story needs at least one…
Seek and Destroy
(Belgariad, Mallorian, Elenium, Tamuli, LOTR)
(Escort/Deliver, which can easily develop to a kidnapping or theft, thus leading to a Rescue or Treasure Hunt plot)
(The Colour of Magic)
(Magician’s Nephew, The Lion Witch Wardrobe, Voyage of Dawn Treader)
(rarely a plot in itself)
(The Horse and his Boy)
(Prince Caspian, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, LOTR, Hobbit, Last Battle, Dragon Star series)
Save the World
(literally, but usually comprises one of the other plots, ie, Seek and Destroy the evil daemon king or it’ll cast a spell to destroy life as we know it)
(can also be known as Good vs Evil)
(Eye of the World, Last Battle, David Eddings books, LOTR, etc. Favoured plot)
(let's face it... just about every fantasy book has it.)
Choose only one, two or, at the most, three things as your main plot points, or you’re likely to be going on with the story forever. If you want more, that’s what subplots are for. Subplots are the little side-adventures that the characters go on that are not always integral to the big picture and don’t take more than a few pages.
Character Development, which can be a plot in itself (profession)
2. Character Development
This should be most significant with your main character, and to a lesser degree with all the others. Most fantasy fiction highlights the actions of character who ultimately becomes the hero. That doesn’t mean you should ignore his companions – just remember who’s in the spotlight here.
Have to develop at least one of these, preferably to an extent that makes your main character stand apart from his or her companions. Something that makes the character special, or something that makes the hero… the hero.
The most important kind, in my opinion. What makes your hero tick? If he or she comes up against a problem that challenges morals or beliefs, how will they handle it, and will their decision change them? Will they let their decision change them? Why?
Psychological development is dependent on the plot and subplots. There’s no room for your character to change if there’s nothing happening to inspire that (unless it’s to make them extremely bored). Develop characteristics that are relevant to what’s going on. If there’s a war, work on fear and courage, valour and honour. If it’s an escape, try deception, cunning and trust.
A character can start off with all these traits from the start, I suppose, but the readers will be more interested if they see the character learning them. They are watching the character grow. Learning with her, sympathising with her, going on adventures with her, living her life with her. If you want a way to stop readers from putting your book down, then let them become the main character. Let that character start off as someone they can associate with, then mature into someone they can admire, love, be proud of, or wish they could be.
Remember that when you make a new world, the people in it must necessarily
be the crown of your creation.
--James Patrick Kelly
…Nobody takes seriously a story in which the good guys are all saints
and the bad guys are the spawn of hell. Saints can have their bad days
and even monsters love their moms. Increasing the level of moral ambiguity
usually enhances a character's believability. Only psychopaths do wrong
for the fun of it. Most of the evil in the world is perpetrated by people
like you and me -- the very people you want to characterize. Sometimes
we do it out of malice; sometimes we're merely selfish or lazy; often as
not we think we're doing the right thing. In any event, you have to be
brave enough to portray your own ugliness in order to create memorable
--James Patrick Kelly
Plot dramatizes character. If all literature is the story of the quest
for identity, then plot is the roadmap of that quest. Every event, every
response, should reveal (to us if not to them) some aspect of the characters'
identities. Plot elements dramatize characters' identities by providing
opportunities to be brave or cowardly, stupid or brilliant, generous or
mean. These opportunities come in the form of severe stress, appropriate
to the kind of story you're telling. A plot element used for its own sake--a
fistfight, a sexual encounter, an ominous warning--is a needless burden
to the story if it does not illuminate the characters involved. Conversely,
the reader will not believe any character trait that you have not dramatized
through a plot device.
Characters should respond to their experiences by changing--or by working
hard to avoid changing. As they seek to carry out their agendas, run into
conflicts, fail or succeed, and confront new problems, they will not stay
the same people. If a character seems the same at the end of a story as
at the beginning, the reader at least should be changed and be aware of
whatever factors kept the character from growing and developing.
It's about conflict, jeopardy, stakes, tension, subplots, revelation,
and tone. How a character handles conflict defines the character, so is
the conflict strong enough to test the character? If a character must make
a choice between two paths, are the two choices presented in an equally
fair way that makes the choice difficult, or are the scales so lopsided
that it is a foregone conclusion?
--Not the Net
If you don’t have a quest, you don’t have a story. The quest gives you
an excuse to dash around and meet new people. Otherwise, you stay home
and grow turnips or something.