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6 Elements of a Good Adventure Story
From J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel trilogy Lord of the Rings to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, many adventure books follow a similar formula; the hero’s journey, first identified by literary professor and author Joseph Campbell, is the most popular narrative structure of an adventure novel. The main components include:
- A hero: The main character of an action-adventure story will most often start out as an ordinary person before they embark on their adventure.
- A quest: The protagonist will be presented with a problem they need to solve. This quest will ignite the plot with a series of events that create the storyline.
- An unfamiliar environment: The protagonist’s journey will take them from their familiar, everyday surroundings to a new, unfamiliar environment. This unfamiliar terrain will create conflict, like character versus nature or character versus the supernatural. Being in a strange land will create greater risks for the main character that increase tension.
- A villain: As a protagonist is on their journey, there are almost always bad guys in pursuit. Antagonists increase the stakes for the main character and heighten the tension.
- An element of risk: A character faces peril throughout an adventure story. Their quest forces them to make decisions that put their lives, or the lives of others, at risk.
- A transformation: Throughout their journey, the main character goes through a metamorphosis from ordinary person to hero.
10 Tips for Writing an Adventure Story
If you’re going to write your own adventure story, follow these tips for creating your hero, building suspense, and taking readers on an incredible journey:
- Read popular novels with an adventure theme. For first-time adventure writers, start by selecting a classic adventure book to see how other authors apply the form in their stories. Try Jon Krakauer’s creative nonfiction novel Into Thin Air about a climbing season on Mt. Everest. Reading other adventure authors will help your own writing.
- Structure your story with the basic adventure framework. The hero’s journey has all of the elements you need to tell a tall tale of adventure. Follow the step-by-step process to construct your story, but put your own twist on the basic formula with unique characters, setting, and plot.
- Create a compelling character. Think about what made Indiana Jones such an engaging protagonist: He was brave but he had weaknesses, like his paralyzing fear of snakes—an obstacle when he’s in the middle of the jungle. Create a likeable protagonist but one with flaws that can drum up internal conflict to parallel the external conflicts they face on their journey. Make them likeable and relatable, someone readers root for. Reveal why they’ve been chosen for this mission.
- Introduce a catalyst. Whether it’s a hunt for an artifact or a mystery that needs to be solved, develop a strong catalyst that ignites the main character’s adventure. This catalyst needs to drive the plot, create risk, and be strong enough to start the protagonist’s transformation.
- Have a supporting character. In many adventure stories, the hero is not alone. They have a trusty sidekick who supports them on their quest. Think of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. They’re a sounding board for Harry during the most dangerous, pivotal moments throughout the series.
- Find a setting that elevates the risk. An adventure story takes a character from a familiar setting to a new environment. If your character lives in a city, send them to a desolate wilderness without a map. If you’re going to keep them on their home turf, then some force of nature or supernatural power must turn the environment upside down to make it a perilous landscape.
- Think about pacing. A great adventure novel should keep the reader on the edge of their seat with a constant hum of suspense. Keep a story moving, even between dramatic plot points. When you’ve completed your first draft, go back and read it through for pacing and eliminate any descriptive moments that slow the story down.
- Increase the risk. Throughout your story, your protagonist must always feel unsettled, like something is always putting their lives at risk. Whether it’s the antagonist closing in or an environmental element that creates danger, your character will have many setbacks and obstacles. Stack the odds against your hero throughout their journey. This will create a bigger payoff at the climax and make the journey worth the risk.
- Set a timer. Nothing puts pressure on a protagonist like racing against the clock. Raise the stakes by giving your character a deadline to reach their goal or something else will happen. One way of approaching this tactic is to create an antagonist who is also on a quest for the same artifact.
- Allow your protagonist to transform. From the moment you introduce them through the denouement, your main character will undergo a transformation and come out a changed person at the end of the story. Those risks and obstacles they endured will give them a new perspective on the world.
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