2020/06/16

The River Plot

Infinite River

Best selling author Jonathan Moeller offers his expert advice on how to write a long-running fantasy series without falling into any of the genre's common pitfalls.
First, I figure out the overall arc for the entire series. What is the central conflict and the main antagonist? Then I decided on the main characters and their specific character arcs.
By that point, this is usually enough to work out a synopsis of the entire series. Then it’s time to divide the synopsis into individual books. It’s important to have an antagonist and a fully formed plot for each individual book. Otherwise you fall prey to one of the weaknesses of long-running fantasy series, where there’s an entire 800 page book where the characters do nothing but walk around the woods or spend like a million chapters sailing down a river or something.
We all know who he's talking about. Learn from those bad examples. Don't be the Book-length River Voyage guy.

By the way, the reason having a clear antagonist helps authors avoid writing aimless novels is that having a solid antagonist to place obstacles between the protagonist and his goal generates conflict, which is the engine stories run on. Characters end up riding the lazy river when they're insufficiently motivated and/or face insufficient opposition.

Jonathan continues:
When I write a synopsis of an individual book, I start by writing a list of the really significant or spectacular scenes I want in it, and then I sketch out the rest of the scenes to connect the big scenes. Then I chop the synopsis up into individual chapters and start writing.
It’s good to have both external and internal conflicts for your characters. In FROSTBORN, Ridmark’s external conflict is stopping the return of the Frostborn, but his internal conflict is the fact that he never dealt with his wife’s death and is very bad at processing grief in general.
More conflict -> more dramatic tension -> a book that's unputdownable.
You can also get a lot of plot mileage when the internal conflict bubbles over into the external one.
Having multiple conflicts intersect at the same time is a central feature of the seven-point plot structure popularized by author Dan Wells. Having your characters beset by multiple sources of opposition at once is a good way to maximize emotional impact--especially when your characters overcome them.

If you're looking for a sci fi adventure series that employs Jonathan's advice, back the Combat Frame XSeed: S crowdfunder and get all four eBooks in the saga thus far with every perk tier!

XSeed: S 644%
All backers are guaranteed a second exclusive short story when we reach 700% funding! Back it now!


18 comments:

  1. Well, now I have to attempt a fantasy story about nothing but sailing down a river. I just can't guarantee that I can stretch it to a million chapters before the boat explodes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What kind of idiot would start a multiple book series without knowing how it all ends? That would be like having a 7 season TV show (say about folks "lost" on tropical island) with no idea how to end it. No one is THAT stupid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brian

      Thanks for posting about Johnaton's post. Excellent advice and one to follow.
      It's the same advice I got as a trainer: always start at the end and work backwards.

      xavier

      Delete
    2. And *cough* G R R Martin *cough*

      At least GRRM got someone else to write the ending for him and pay him a ridiculous amount of money for said privilege..

      Delete
    3. And Jordan died...and left it to others to finish his story.

      Delete
    4. Will that ghost-written ending make what he wrote worth reading?

      My magic 8 ball says 'Don't count on it.'

      Delete
  3. “We all know who he’s talking about.”

    I confess that I don’t know. It’s possible that I have blocked this river voyage from my memory though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As much as I like it on the whole, there are some portions of the Wheel of Time that feel aimless. I actually gave up on it for a few years and only came back to finish it when the end was actually in sight.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I don’t recall the river ride but the series and author that popped into my head immediately was Jordon and his Wheel of a Time series.

      Delete
    3. The ta'veren and their families spent a lot of time on the move, to be sure. Between long walks in the desert, long treks through the woods, caravans, river boats, and deep water ships, they went everywhere they could in every way they could. If not for traveling and skimming, they might still be try to get there!

      Delete
    4. The Wheel of Time is the trope namer.

      Delete
    5. The editors and publisher wanted you buying more books. All Jordan could do was stretch out what he had, otherwise you would have had the epic fantasy version of DBZ, only without the lighthearted bent.

      I'm sure normal readers would have preferred Jordan just telling this story then moving on to something else, but that's not the way OldPub thinks. Now they have one untuned jalopy of a series with squeaking wheels as opposed to the 3 or 4 Camaros they could be selling to readers instead.

      It's not a very forward-thinking industry despite its obsession with the image of being progressive.

      Delete
    6. Tor honcho Tom Doherty claims that extending WoT beyond 3 books was Jordan's idea. Take that for what it's worth.

      Delete
    7. I think there's an inverse relationship between how much time one spends thinking about making progress and how much progress one actually makes. Those who can, do; those who can't, obsess about doing.

      I think the Sword of truth may be the DBZ of epic fantasy. I finished the Dark Tower, WoT (twice, would read again) and A Song of Ice and Fire (would not read again). I can't be bothered to finish Sword of Truth. The Archmage of Objectivism isn't that interesting.

      Delete
    8. I actually liked the Wheel of Time. Just skip book 10. The only event of note is in the epilogue.

      Delete
  4. If it’s Jordan, I definitely must have blocked it out of my mind. I’ve read all the books, the good and the boring and I don’t remember a river voyage at all.

    I do remember being frustrated by the descriptions of clothing and fabrics and buttons. Lots of buttons. More buttons than braid tugging.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a notorious River Plot in The Eye of the World when Rand & co. take ship aboard the Spray.

      Delete