Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#1
I've been giving some thought recently about what makes a good call to adventure in a story, and I'd like your input on two options. Now, this thread does not purport to cover all calls to adventure, but rather only two very similar takes on the "Stumbling into the Plot" trope, and which is better. 

General Background: Whosoever first touches the Orb of Hero Magic will become the Hero. (This is the fundamental step that must occur for the hero's journey to begin)

Scenario 1:  The Orb falls from the sky in the middle of the night, splashing down into the well of a small village (naturally).  Throughout the morning, as villagers draw water from the well, the Orb bobs about the water but is never quite caught.  Then, as young Shelby fetches her bucket of water, she catches the Orb and, upon touching it, becomes the Hero.

Scenario 2: The Orb falls from the sky in the middle of the night into the woods far away from the village and is taken by goblins as their new shiny.  Young Shelby goes and fetches her bucket of water from the well.  On her way back, she runs into slow Janet, whose son fell ill last night and can't run the daily package of sandwiches to the hunter's outpost outside the village.  Janet asks for Shelby to do her a favor and run the sandwiches out to the outpost, and Janet will take the budget to Shelby's mother.  Shelby runs the packages out to the outpost, but while there, a huge horde of barbarian horsemen come through the valley and attack the village, and then turn towards the outpost.  The adult hunters prepare to fight back, but have Janet escape through a child-sized irrigation ditch until she gets to the edge of the woods and can flee inside to escape.  She considers traveling east to the next village, but a huge storm is approaching her from that direction, so she runs west to try and find a cave to hide in.  She finds the goblin cave, but they are all out on a hunt.  Recognizing the threat, she prepares to leave but suddenly catches a glint flashing off the Orb.  Despite having no current use for a glinting object, she quickly enters the cave and grabs the Orb, becoming the Hero.

Analysis:

Now, personally, I am far more inclined to Scenario 1.  The way it is set up, somebody will become the hero.  It could have been Shelby, or Janet, or Bob, or Alice, but there is no doubt that a hero will exist and thus the story can occur (and it's just that in this particular universe, it's Shelby).  In order words, while the odds that Shelby became the Hero were small, the odds that somebody became the Hero was near 1. 

My problem with Scenario 2 is that it's built upon a long sequence of improbable events. Janet's son had to get sick.  Shelby had to pass Janet at just the right time so that it wasn't someone else.  The village had to be attacked out of the blue.  The sandwich delivery person had to not be an adult so they had a reason not to stay and fight. The sandwich delivery person had to be small enough to sneak out the hunter's post.  The storm had to appear just right to blow the person far off track.  The person had to be a poor enough tracker to approach a goblin's cave.  The goblins had to be missing or the person would be dinner.  And the person had to be lucky enough to see the glint and stupid enough to go after a glint when basic survival is at stake. Yes, the odds of Shelby becoming the Hero are low here too (and I'll even generously agree they are the same odds as the well).  But in contrast to Scenario 1, in Scenario 2, almost no one other than Shelby (and it has to be Shelby with a lot of luck) could have become the Hero. A single flap of the butterfly's wing, and the Hero wouldn't come into existence for a decade or a century or however long it takes for the Orb of Hero Magic (now a goblin possession) to intersect with a human.

So, those are my thoughts.  What about you?

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#2
Honestly, both scenarios are really bad. 

It depends on how its written, and the kind of story it is, but I likely wouldn't read either. 

Scenario 1 is just plain uninspired. There are so many ways you could go about having a hero discover their purpose, but to have a literal hero orb fall from the sky? That really sets the tone for the kind of lazy, generic story this will be. 

Scenario 2 is the kind of thing we see more often, but that doesn't make it any better. Like you said, a series of improbable events. While such a thing isn't rare in fantasy, I would prefer to avoid it, especially when it's so blatant. 

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#3

luda305 Wrote: The Orb falls from the sky in the middle of the night into the woods far away from the village and is taken by goblins as their new shiny.
sounds like the goblins are the hero if you ask me.


really though, the orb seems like it comes from a higher power so I would say it would make more sense for it to land in a well. If I make an orb that designates a hero to save the people I look out for, I am definitely chucking it into the middle of a village, or the capital if I am feeling less lucky.

I like very contrived sequences of events as much as the next person, but if it is for an important thing like showing the hero's destiny, sometimes simplicity is better.

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#4
I think the goblins should be the hero in version 2 :p

But yeah, if it's going to be that convoluted just make them the chosen one and go.

Or make it so that the orb was in the goblin cave for years before it was found putting fate in jeopardy (it's the gods fault they put it in such a trash spot). Like people find all sorts of unlikely nonsense, but it takes time, so as long as it's not quite on such an extreme time line like in the example it could be fine.

I'm not a writer though so eh

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#5
I'm not a big fan of hero's stumbling into the plot, I've always found it more compelling if the plot gets introduced based on a decision made by the hero. 

Like lets say the orb is found in the well by someone else, but no one touches it. It's brought to the village elder/mayor/sheriff who sends a message to whoever is 'in charge', rumor's begin to spread as to what the nature of the orb is, but they now won't let anyone touch it as they wait for the 'envoy' to pick it up. Goblins then attack the village to retrieve said orb (finding out due to traitor/spy/etc.), and then young Shelby ends up in a situation where she can either run away and save herself, or grab the orb to with the intent of preventing the goblins from getting it, thereby becoming the hero.

Although if the random circumstances is the goal to the beginning of the plot, this entire line of reasoning was a waste of time :P If randomness is required, frankly I don't believe any amount of events needing to take place before they retrieve it is too farfetched, but maybe make the catalyst for that series of events based on a decision Shelby makes, even something as simple as she made the decision to go to the well to draw water when she had the option not to.

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#6
I love heroes stumbling into plots. I wouldn't read so much isekai otherwise. 

But yeah even in those scenarios I think the main character needs to make an active choice of some sort, that leads to them becoming the hero. I think a good story is all about a character dealing with the consequences of their own actions. 

For example, Shelby is hiding from goblins that are drawing near her village. She have several options; she can run away, she could call for the guard, or she could ambush the goblins. She doesn't have any weapons on her, but that odd orb she found in her bucket and was on her way to take to the wizard (because only a moron would touch random magical objects) looks really heavy and solid, and she's got a good throwing arm. The leader goblin is nearby and she would be in a much better position if she could smash its head in. She picks up the orb. 

Now, she COULD run. She COULD stay hiding. She COULD call for the village guards. But she chose to fight. Becoming the realms one and only chosen hero is not a logical consequence to deciding to smash in the head of a goblin, but it IS a direct consequence of a choice she made. 

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#7
It depends on (what the orb-creating gods want/need) what the author wants to tell. 

Scenario 1: The gods need anybody, really any random person, because the Hero Orb will give that person the power they need. It may be the 3-year-old kid fetching water for mommy (the Hero Orb will make them grow into a strong and powerful teenager, making them easily learn all the skills a hero needs in the meantime. Condition: hero is not needed instantly) or the 80-year-old senior with his rheumy joints (the Hero Orb will give them back their vitality/youth. They might already have the necessary skills, or the Orb will awaken the desire to live an adventurous life so they can learn them). Shelby is RandomVillager#38416.

Scenario 2: The gods need somebody special. Very special, because being a hero is not for everybody. Only very very unusual circumstances will lead that special person to the orb, weeding out the weak, the cowards, the stupid. The 3-year-old kid will not do, too young to go out into the woods. The 80-year-old senior will not do, his times of leaving the village are long past. Only Shelby has what it takes: A hero helps those who need help, Shelby takes up Janet's quest; A hero is physically able enough to make a trip to the wilderness, Shelby can run to the outpost; A hero needs to be ressourceful, Shelby knows a cave is better that death by lightning; A hero needs to be smart, staying in a goblin cave as a youth is dangerous so Shelby leaves; A hero needs curiosity, Shelby sees a strange glinting object and decides yes, I will take that with me (not smart enough to keep your hands off strange orbs, apparently); A hero needs courage, Shelby touches the strange glowing orb even though it might be plutonium and kill you EDIT: Haust's idea with using the Orb as a weapon is a better idea for courage. Shelby is The Chosen One. Shelby did not choose the Orb, the Orb chose Shelby. This long sequence of improbable events was not random, it was destiny. Fate, knowing the need for a hero, made Janet's son eat some bad fruit, so she would ask Shelby for help. Fate modified the barbarian shaman's divination bone throw so it would read "Shelbyville is a good place to attack on the day of the new moon". Fate startled a butterfly (through a barbarian riding past perhaps, it's sensible to reuse ressources) so the storm would come. Fate made the goblins go out to hunt at that moment (because a barbarian horde riding by makes the deer flee to the goblins' preferred hunting ground and they noticed that). And of course, Fate made the Hero Orb bounce off from that branch so it would roll down that slope, landing directly next to that goblin. 

Both versions are okay, but these two stories will be completely different. In scenario 1, Shelby finding the Orb is chapter 1, paragraphs 1-4, now the hero is decided, start of story. In scenario 2, Shelby finding the Orb is the prologue or first few chapters. The author is later able to do worldbuilding by telling "Interlude 1: Snotnose Finds a Shiny", "Interlude 2: A Day in the Life of Glitterwing, Butterfly Extraordinaire", "Interlude 3: Urgu's Rites of Passage" (Part 1: The Divination. Part 2: The Raid on Shelbyville. Part 3: Attack on the Outpost & Urgu's First Kill. Part 4: Victorious Return & Becoming a Man Ceremony"), "Interlude 4: Where's my Shiny?" (Snotnose leaves the cave alone in search of his missing shiny and becomes Shelby's first kill). The Life of Urgu could even be a complete book with the last chapter "Fighting the Hero" (famous War Leader Urgu's death many years later, when the Hero finally ends the Barbarian Wars), or a prequel book (Urgu, who decided to go on a journey after becoming a man, meets the fresh hero and joins Shelby's party). 

Why do you think scenario 2 is worse? It clearly isn't, it's just different. If the gods suddenly need a hero at this moment, they will use scenario 1. If the gods need a hero somewhere in the future, either next week or in a hundred years, they can use scenario 2. If there are no gods, Fate will use scenario 2 and set each little prerequisite subplot in motion at the right time, days and weeks and years before the start of the story. 

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#8

Sereminar Wrote: Or make it so that the orb was in the goblin cave for years before it was found putting fate in jeopardy
Maybe. Or it was in the cave for years because Fate has been planning this for a loooong time, instead of doing everything in the last minute. 

luda305 Wrote: My problem with Scenario 2 is that it's built upon a long sequence of improbable events
Read up on the life stories of some people, there are some really crazy sequences of improbable events (not everything might be true, but there are enough verified ones). How now -famous people got where they are ("was working a dead-end job, didn't feel well and left early, met a certain person on the bus, we talked, they later introduced me to the producer/agent"), how people survived the holocaust ("gestapo guy was a birder and was distracted because a rare bird flew past so he followed the bird instead of looking into the shed I was hiding in"), or fighting in wars (the famous "bullet caught by bible/grandpa's old watch in the front pocket"). With 7-8 billion of people on this world, at least a handful won 1 in 1000 chances three times in a row. 

I read a book as a youth from my parents' friend's dad and his time as a soldier, it left a mark. If I remember correctly: 1) It was winter, they were on a train. Author had a warm coat and took pity on two privates who were freezing because they only had thin jackets, he let them take his place in the warm cabin at the front of the train (he was an officer so he had the good spot on the train) *beat* Train hits a mine, front of train destroyed, privates dead, author survived. 2) Everybody sitting in their foxholes, enemy tanks arrive, bullets everywhere. Other soldier does something (don't remember what), author runs to that guy's foxhole, now two people in a one-man foxhole *beat* shell directly hits original foxhole, unsurvivable, author survived. 3) Later, now POW, threw away his officer insignia because rumor that enemy will kill officers. Grunts don't get much food, everybody gets weaker, officers are treated better and get more food. Finally goes to the guards, says "I'm an officer but I can't prove it, please don't let me starve". Guard officer comes, turns out he was their prisoner some while ago and remembers that the author was the guy who let him escape instead of executing him like the orders said. Author survives.

There are many stories like that. Of course, for every crazy survival story there are 999 people who did not survive. But those that survive are the ones who can tell their tale. They are the same ones who might be called heroes later, even though it was mostly luck. Janet's boy in scenario 2 is one of the 999, he's dead from barbarian attack now and will only be remembered in half a sentence of Shelby's prologue (and their neighbor will not even get that much). Hero = survivorship bias. Five years ago in another barbarian raid, the other potential hero took a different turn after running from the outpost and was killed by barbarians/lightning/goblins. 

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#9
As a slight alternative to the examples in the first post, one type of opening I have seen quite well is having a mini plot arc which ends at or just before the initial incident of the main plot.  This allows the story to have an in medias res and/or humorous beginning where the readers can become sympathetic to the character and get a glimpse of the world, while postponing any complex explanations necessary to the main plot.

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#11
As a possible mouth-breather, my onion is that anything is fine so long as it at least has a thematic reason.

Could be an adventurous Shelby who only sees the magical thinga-majiggy because they are the sort of kid who explores/works hard/etc.
Could be Shelby is a chronic coward with agoraphobia that hides under a blanket all day is forced to be the hero, and how it interferes with their life.
Could be the overused super duper chosen child of destiny because 'reasons'.
Could be about what happens when the completely average and non-impressive Shelby is now thrust into a battle between godly powers older than human history, and how it affects them and their world.

It only really gets bad when the introduction to the story has no bearing on anything at all from chapter 2 onwards. Or maybe is some bare-bones, boring introduction where the thingamabob just falls into the plot in a simple sentence. Even a video game quest log would be more entertaining than 'oh hey a thing happened' 

Spontaneous Quest! Collect the whatchyamacallit!
Rewards: ???
Failure: Regretting for the rest of your life that you never found the doohicky and what it does.

Probably doesn't need a 200 page setup, either. Unless it fits thematically of course!

Otherwise I'd say nobody likes incompetent people in real life, so why would we want to read about them in our relaxation time?

Re: The Call to Adventure - Taking a Razor to Stumbling into the Plot

#12
I'm just going to quote the bits of the original post which I'm directly responding to:

luda305 Wrote: Scenario 1:  The Orb falls from the sky in the middle of the night, splashing down into the well of a small village (naturally).  Throughout the morning, as villagers draw water from the well, the Orb bobs about the water but is never quite caught.  Then, as young Shelby fetches her bucket of water, she catches the Orb and, upon touching it, becomes the Hero.
Quote:Now, personally, I am far more inclined to Scenario 1.  The way it is set up, somebody will become the hero.  It could have been Shelby, or Janet, or Bob, or Alice, but there is no doubt that a hero will exist and thus the story can occur (and it's just that in this particular universe, it's Shelby).  In order words, while the odds that Shelby became the Hero were small, the odds that somebody became the Hero was near 1.

My problem with Scenario 2 is that it's built upon a long sequence of improbable events. Janet's son had to get sick.  Shelby had to pass Janet at just the right time so that it wasn't someone else.  The village had to be attacked out of the blue.  The sandwich delivery person had to not be an adult so they had a reason not to stay and fight. The sandwich delivery person had to be small enough to sneak out the hunter's post.  The storm had to appear just right to blow the person far off track.  The person had to be a poor enough tracker to approach a goblin's cave.  The goblins had to be missing or the person would be dinner.  And the person had to be lucky enough to see the glint and stupid enough to go after a glint when basic survival is at stake. Yes, the odds of Shelby becoming the Hero are low here too (and I'll even generously agree they are the same odds as the well).  But in contrast to Scenario 1, in Scenario 2, almost no one other than Shelby (and it has to be Shelby with a lot of luck) could have become the Hero. A single flap of the butterfly's wing, and the Hero wouldn't come into existence for a decade or a century or however long it takes for the Orb of Hero Magic (now a goblin possession) to intersect with a human.

Here's the funny thing: Your analysis of your own Scenario 1 is completely different from my interpretation as I was first reading that scenario! When I read about how several other villagers draw water from the well that morning without catching the bobbing Orb . . . but then young Shelby comes along and immediately has it floating in her bucketful of water, apparently without her even trying to catch the silly thing . . . I took it for granted that there was deliberate purpose behind this outcome, rather than purely random factors at work. 

It felt (to me) like the story of young Arthur Pendragon and The Sword in the Stone all over again. Only the rightful High King of Britain could succeed in drawing forth Excalibur from that stone, right? Lots of other knights and noblemen had tried hard, and had gotten absolutely nowhere, before the lad who was the secret son of the previous High King tried his luck at it. Likewise, only the "right" person could capture the Orb in the well and then gain great power from touching it . . . and young Shelby was the right person. 

Of course, I could see various ways this could have happened. It wouldn't necessarily mean that Shelby was the "rightful heir" by having distinctive genes marking her as a direct descendant of some legendary Hero of ancient times. It might just be that the Orb was waiting for someone -- anyone, male or female! -- who had exactly the right mixture of psychological characteristics (as detected by the Orb's magic) to come along . . . and Shelby was the first person to come along who matched the Orb's high standards, but in theory someone else might have come along, sometime within the next five years, who would also fit the bill as "a highly-qualified candidate." 

Or some entity could have aimed the Orb at Shelby's village in the first place, somehow already knowing that there was at least one worthy candidate living there. In that case, after that powerful entity had started things moving in the right direction, that probability that Shelby herself would be the first to succeed in touching the Orb would have been very close to 1, rather than a matter of sheer dumb luck as you suggested. 

(And then there's the same possibility that David Eddings used in his Belgariad series -- if the Orb of Aldur were touched by anyone unworthy, that person would be incinerated by the magical failsafes. If something similar applies here, then those other villagers may never realize how lucky they were that they didn't manage to touch the Orb before Shelby came along!)

On the other hand . . . your comment about how your own Scenario 2 depends "upon a long sequence of improbable events" also strikes me as being subject to second-guessing. Just because it all seemed random and improbable at the time doesn't mean it was really just a case of "by sheer luck of the draw, things just happened to fall into place to bring Shelby to the Orb in a timely fashion." Again, some unseen entity (such as a god or goddess) could have been meddling to steer things in what the entity perceived as "the right direction," but without loudly advertising this fact at the time! 

I'm reminded of something I once read. It was a book about creative writing. Several published writers had each contributed pieces. One writer, whose name I forget, said much of his professional experience was in Hollywood, working on scripts for movies and TV episodes, usually with lots of mystery & suspense in the plot. He said he tried to stick to a simple rule of thumb: When all is said and done, the plot development of any given story should depend upon no more than one Great Big Coincidence. Any other important plot point which seemed to be a random event at the time would eventually turn out to have a solid reason behind it -- such as the "bad guys" were trying to steer things their own way as part of a Secret Agenda, or a "good guy" had arranged for something to happen without mentioning it to the protagonist in advance, or whatever. 

Of course, the poor protagonist might think he'd just been having a run of bad luck that day (or good luck, as the case might be), and the audience might tend to assume the same, but when things were all explained at the end of the story, it would turn out that most of the recent strange events had all been part of a logical sequence of cause and effect, even if they didn't seem to be.

For instance, in the first few minutes of the story, the hero might be an unsuspecting civilian who really and truly just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and stumbled over a corpse -- or a spy who was dying of his wounds and managed to gasp out a few enigmatic words before croaking -- and then the bad guys might assume that the hero was, in fact, another spy working for the CIA (or the British MI-6, or whatever), and might start chasing him on that basis. Other things which happened to him in the course of the plot might seem to be random events -- but probably weren't! 

I'm reminded of a time, in the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie North by Northwest, when Cary Grant's character is aboard a train and frantically trying to hide from the authorities -- or anyone else (such as Communist spies) who might be hunting for him. This had all begun as a simple case of mistaken identity, with the Communist agents thinking he was a super-spy himself. (He was actually an advertising executive.) On the train, by what initially appears to be Sheer Dumb Luck, he meets a beautiful blond woman who is surprisingly sympathetic to his desire to stay hidden, and allows him to conceal himself in her private compartment aboard the train. They had never met before, and he didn't know why she was so willing to help a fugitive on the run. It turned out that a) she was working for the Communist spy ring, and b) she was also working undercover for the CIA to infiltrate that spy ring. This was why she was willing to give Cary Grant a helping hand when he desperately needed one. If she had just been an ordinary young woman who didn't know or care about cloak-and-dagger shenanigans, she probably wouldn't have lifted a finger to help him hide. (But of course he didn't get all that straightened out until later in the plot . . .)