Plot is important to keep the narrative moving. We discuss ways you can push forward the story to keep readers, viewers, and players engaged.
There have been times when we watch a movie or play a game where the plot just bogs down. It may not pull us out of the immersion but it can make things a little less fun and interesting. Stories should constantly be developing and shifting. It’s what makes them captivating and intriguing.
As fantasy authors, we fell in love with Lord of the Rings. While watching Fellowship for the thousandth time the other day we noticed ways the movie progresses the story. There is always something else that happens to advance the plot. We’re not talking about how Frodo has to take the ring to Mordor. It’s deeper than that.
It’s in the moments where the crebain from Dunland arrive and the party is forced to take cover. Or when the Fellowship must choose between going over the pass of Caradhras, through the Gap of Rohan, or into the Mines of Moria. There are multiple examples in the films that constantly usher the narrative forward. Without these moments, the story falls flat. It would just be a montage of the main characters traveling from point A to point B.
Beginning – End
Having a starting point and an endpoint should be the first things you come up with. Knowing where you want your story to go will help you fill out everything in the middle. This works for novels, movies, Dungeons & Dragons, and comics.
Like with Lord of the Rings: The Ring of Power has returned and found itself in the hands of a hobbit. The main characters learn it must be destroyed within the fires of Mt. Doom where it was created.
Everything in the middle is where you develop characters and introduce obstacles. These can be summed up as encounters.
Encounters, Encounters, Encounters
When you think about structuring a story like a TTRPG it makes it a bit more simple. Encounters are designed to challenge characters. They can range from social interactions, combat, and travel. One of the most important factors of an encounter is it should always advance the plot.
For example. In the Two Towers when the refugees are traveling to Helm’s Deep the caravan is attacked by orcs and wargs. It lets the viewer and characters know Sauron is watching them. He knows their plans and is actively trying to stop them. If it were just some random orc attack it wouldn’t mean much for the story. If that were the case it would be an inconvenience and readers wouldn’t connect with it.
Every encounter your characters come across should revolve around the story. Whether it lets the characters know the enemy is onto them or reveals a detail about a character, plot thread, or villain.
Encounters are also great ways to introduce lore. If you’re writing a book, it makes more sense to tell a streamlined story without filler or fluff. But there are times when even the best of novels introduce threads that lead nowhere. It’s best to avoid these altogether so you don’t leave your viewers confused.
This can best be summed up with random encounter tables. They have their place but we’re not big fans of them. If you do end up using a random encounter table make sure it is connected to your story. It could be connected to a character, NPC, or the overarching plot.
We’ll pull an example from our fantasy series Thread of Souls. In book two Ash & Thunder, a few characters find themselves in ancient elven ruins. Brought there by Jade’s brother to investigate a strange creature.
“As they turned into another room, they pulled up short and stifled surprised gasps. Curled in the far corner was a giant spider. The size of a horse, it was clearly dead and had been for some time. The torchlight cast its twisted shadow three times as big on the wall behind it. “Yuck,” Heron shivered.
“I have never seen one so big!” Skar gasped. “I am going to take one of its hairs.” He shuffled over, already getting out a pouch. Artemis glanced sidelong at Jade. “Do you get big spiders in Oceala?” The Druid stared at the dead creature, perplexed. “Well, no. But come to think of it . . . It has been awhile since I’ve seen a spider.” “One this size?” Unolé clarified. Jade shook her head, chewing on her lip in consideration. “No, any spiders.”
The missing spiders are the driving force of our story. Instead of delving into some unknown ruin, this reveal makes the story feel much more connected. While other characters may have known this information, Jade and the others just learned it.
In the case of the mysterious creature, it helps paint a better picture of the Deep Hollows where the spiders have the largest presence.
Here are some quick ways you can advance the plot:
- Notes, Records, or Ledgers
- Character Monologue
- Characters Discover Information
- An Enemy Tracks the Characters
- An Enemy Becomes an Ally / Vice Versa
- An Obstacle Presents an Opportunity