This post is part of our series exploring Christopher Booker’s theory of plot types in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Write StoriesSee type 12345, and 6, and 7.

Yeah, like you’re going to see a list of plot types that doesn’t include the Quest. The Quest is a search for a place, item, or person that requires the hero to leave home in order to find it. Sometimes the item is just a MacGuffin to drive the plot along; other times the thing driving the quest is specific to the story’s circumstances. Either way, the hero is leaving home to find whatever the heck the story demands, and we get to come along for the ride.

Emerald City

“We’re off to see the Wizard.”

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The Quest is the plot type most likely to have a group of main characters rather than one protagonist in the main eye of the story. The rest of the party generally takes one of four appearances:

  • A close friend who is loyal to our hero, but doesn’t have much else going for him or her;
  • A sidekick who is the polar opposite of the hero mentally, physically, and emotionally;
  • A generic mass of identity-less bros who don’t get names because they’re not alive long enough to matter; or
  • A balanced party of brains, heart, and strength who support the hero, or who count the hero as one of their own.

The Call

If you’ve read either of the other two entries in this series, you’ve probably got an idea of what this entails. Kickstarts the plot and gives the hero and the rest of the party a mission to accomplish.

The Journey

Obviously our heroes are not going to get to their end goal that easily. Most of the journey is over enemy territory or hostile land, and obstacles pop up left and right, like dandelions in the spring. Obstacles come in several flavors, like monsters (kill/escape, rinse, repeat), temptations (see a good portion of the Odyssey for examples), a rock and a hard place (Scylla and Charybdis being the classic example), or a journey to the underworld. Amid these tests come periods of rest where the party can regain their strength (or count the bodies, if the party is the third type).

Arrival and Frustration

They’re so close! Our heroes can see the Emerald City! They’re almost there! Oh, wait, the Wizard won’t actually help them until they kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Damn. Well, that’s annoying. Our heroes still have some work to do before they actually complete their Quest.

The Final Ordeals

Now come the final tests of our heroes. Often these come in sets of three, like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Usually our main hero is the only one who can complete the final test. Success! And then our intrepid band of heroes (or just one hero, in case everyone else is dead) makes an amazing escape from death, either by running away or by killing whatever bad guys are left.

The Goal

Huzzah! Our hero(es) have completed their quest, and get their treasure/kingdom/princess/trip home.

Most stories involving the Holy Grail are Quests, as is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Princess Bride, and Finding Nemo. If information is considered to be the sought-after item in the Quest, most police/legal procedurals could be considered miniature quests. By varying the elements of the Quest story, the plot type can still stay fresh.

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PRACTICE

Pick one of the stages of the Quest and write a scene from that stage for fifteen minutes. Post your practice in the comments section, and check out the work of your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
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