19 March 2017

Plotting an Epic Fantasy With Dragons

Once upon a time there was no epic fantasy with or without dragons. Then, one day, there was! How did that happen? I'm still wondering myself. When my head clears of the sleepy cobwebs, my intellectual mind reminds me that it is a simple thing we like to call plot - or, in the superlative, plotting.

Plotting is the positioning of plot points (i.e., "things that happen") along a route through a tale. With a quest tale, it is considerably easier because you have an actual route to follow. Such routes are best laid out on maps. The first step to plotting is to have a good map of the quest area. Normally these are not laying about willy-nilly in a dusty cartographer's shop. No, you might very often need to make your own. 

The first step is to find a map of any ol' place. Let's take America, for example. Find a map of America, that ancient land of myth and merriment that scribes will not cease talking about. Now, we know from our basic studies that the world changes through the centuries. We know seas rise and mountains rise. We know also that rivers may flow away and become lifeless canyons. We know that once fertile fields may become inundated by the sea and turn into marshlands. Forests will fall in one place yet grow thick in another. 

The second step is to mess up the map. Create chaos. Let the seas rush in and the lakes overflow. Let mountains sprout and volcanoes thrash the land. Quakes will alter the landscape, as well. Cities may need to be rebuilt as others collapse into ruin. We are talking centuries, remember. Kingdoms rise and fall, borders change. Legends are passed from campfire to tavern to a fine court of ladies and gentlemen. And there are always stories to tell that explain the world we inhabit today - the today of our tale.
The lower valley in the Ancient Era.

The lower valley as we know it today.
The third step is to designate a starting point. Let's say it is a city at one end of the map. Then designate a destination, perhaps at the opposite end of the map - depending on the size of one's map. Bigger is not always better; remember the stamina of your hero/heroine and his/her cohort. Think of the dangers along the way: a longer journey must necessarily be fraught with more dangers. Something significant must happen at regular intervals which will cause the hero/heroine to press on. Yet what does happen at those regular intervals must also be entertaining in its own right, almost as though that scene were its own tale.

The fourth and final step is to draw a line connecting the two points: start and finish. Next, draw an X at regular internals. These Xs will mark where something significant happens, such as a dragon attack. Perhaps there are wild people blocking the route. Or interesting ruins that must be explored. There may even be a magus or two here and there. Or a city, grand and glorious, that no one in your hero's party ever suspected existed. Or another dragon attack. The possibilities are nearly endless - though do keep in mind the length of the route and give your heroes a break once in a while. 
The entire realm of the Americus, circa 9845.
Keep in mind that a good tale has ever-worsening events. This rule was invented by scribes long ago who had too much time on their hands and too much ink on their nubs. This rule is important for testing your hero. A hero is not so heroic if all he/she must face is a magic bunny. Let your hero face doom. It's really not so awful. Remember that you can enjoy it all from a comfy chair. For your hero, however, it is a blessing: the chance to prove himself/herself and reclaim that reputation once lost (hence the need for a road trip in the first place). The final plot points should take your hero down to his/her worst, ready to fail, ready to die. Then go get a fresh cup of tea and let your hero/heroine dangle a bit.

Now that you have your plotting done, wish your heroes well and send them on their way with ample supplies and a healthy dose of fortitude and bravura. Perhaps assign a comic relief (a kitchen boy?) or some other minor actor (a hunchback?) to divert attention from the blustering braggadocio of the dragonslayer - for who else is best suited for such a journey but a dragonslayer in search of dragons? As scribes long ago were wont to scribble: "It takes a whole cohort to slay a dragon!"

You, too, can ride along on this heroic quest to rid the world of the scourge of dragons by reading EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS on slices of shaved wood or as light upon a smooth stone. The choice is yours.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

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