How to Avoid 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.

Souldancer provides a good example of the interplay between external and internal conflict with Astlin’s struggle to escape Shaiel while wrestling with the madness that makes her a danger to herself and others.

Jonathan dispenses plenty more sage advice in his original post. Read the whole thing here.

And if you’re looking for a not-so-long adventure series that employs Jonathan’s advice, check out my award-winning, and complete, Soul Cycle.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

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