I'd like to talk about classic storylines today, and how you can use them in your own writing. And storyline number 1 is "A Hero Goes on a Quest." If you've read The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Gilgamesh, On the Road, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, or any number of others, then congratulations - you've read one of the oldest, and most powerful, storylines of all time. As you can see from this list, the hero's quest storyline appears in contemporary fiction, fantasy, ancient epic poetry, and folklore. It is a powerfully affecting storyline, because it taps into some of our deepest human fears and desires. The hero's quest story addresses human questions about destiny, free will, good and evil, and what threatens what we hold most dear. No wonder it's so popular to use!
How the story works
Let's break it down. The hero's quest storyline almost always begins in a place of idyllic safety and happiness. There must be a reason for the quest; the reason is to protect the beloved home. We can see the Shire, Hogwarts, or Ithaca as places of sanctity, places where love is certain, where a degree of innocence exists. The hero's quest, therefore, is only part of the story; the other part is to get back to this place.
Then there is an inciting incident. Something ill-omened happens; maybe a sly old wizard arrives and announces you're needed to fight a dragon; maybe you've gotten restless in the safety but boredom; maybe someone attacks. Whatever it is, suddenly your home is under threat. There is nothing that can be done but to venture forth on your quest.
What is being quested for is where the stories vary. It might be to reclaim a throne, to destroy an evil object, to rescue a friend, or just to find yourself. Whatever it is, there's something at the end of the road waiting for you, and your home is in danger unless you get it.
How you can use it
So is the hero's quest too old-fashioned a story to revive today? Not at all - the best, edgiest contemporary fiction continues to use the quest story again and again, every year. The way modern writers complicate this old storyline is by calling into question two things: the value of the prize, and the sanctity of the home. In a modern, complex quest story, the hero might discover that the prize at the end of the road is not at all what he thought it would be, and is perhaps not even worth the effort. Or else, the hero might begin to wonder if home is that pure and innocent and wonderful after all. It's the quest itself that is life, and the characters wish they could stay on it forever. What is living more - being safe at home, or being an adventurer?
Have you used the hero's quest storyline? How did you refresh it for your story?