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Monday, January 10, 2011

Mystic Monday

What Makes a Good Adventure?

Definition of adventure (taken from
1. an exciting or very unusual experience.
2. participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.
3. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.
4. a commercial or financial speculation of any kind; venture.

Considering this, indicates most romance novels I've read contained adventure as a major ingredient. No, not all of them have been futuristic, sci-fi, fantasy or paranormal. Many of them have been historical romances.

Yep, many historical romances tell tales where the characters go through adventures. From Mary Jo Putney to Nora Roberts to Amanda Quick - adventure seems to be a favorite story additive, especially when you consider the huge popularity of certain movies:
Twilight quad
Star Wars (IV, V, VI)
Indiana Jones
The Mummy
Pirates of the Caribbean
Harry Potter Saga

These are some of the biggest films out there, and they've been enjoyed by viewers of all ages.

What do they have to do with anything? Despite the fact that they're paranormal, fantasy and/or sci-fi, the adventure is what makes them popular. Yes, they add to the escapism, transport you to another place or another time, but that's not all they do. These movies take the reader on a fantastic adventure with danger and excitement around every corner.

What these movies do is no different from what Mary Jo Putney did in her story, Silk and Secrets. I don't have the book in front of my because I read it quite a bit ago, but I remember that I liked it, I remember that the main character, Ross, went on an adventure, why this time, I can't remember. I just know that this adventure takes place in foreign, dangerous lands and there are some very well-done action scenes with desert tribes.

Ice Blue, a contemporary novel by Anne Stuart, takes place in the US (California, I think, but I can't remember exactly where) and overseas, sort of. Basically, the two main characters are enmeshed in a dangerous web and need to survive. Sure, you could say it's "survival," but isn't that just a fancy name for adventure?

No matter the setting, adventure is adventure, and that seems to be what I seek. However, I've come to expect certain things from regular adventure stories. Story staples I guess you could call them. The best adventure stories I read usually have the following with them:
1. Map of the area the story takes place in, to help the reader orient themselves and get a feel for the terrain.
2. Glossary of terms and/or people - not required, but when there are a lot of different terms whose definitions are integral to understanding the story or a lot people to keep straight, a list can be essential and prevents the need for repeating certain information, unless it's absolutely necessary.

For example, this latest book I'm reading, Servant of a Dark God by John D. Brown, both references are handy because there are a lot of different types of races to keep straight, and the relationships from one race to the next can be complex. Plus, the territory isn't something you're automatically familiar with, so the map helps to orient the reader within the setting.

Not all adventure stories have these two things, but they do a superb job of creating the setting with narrative and dialogue as well as developing the characters through dialogue and actions.

That being said, every time I read an adventure story - historical, contemporary, futuristic, etc. - if there isn't a map and the characters travel to multiple locations during the story, I always wish there was a map so you could get an idea of where these different locations are relative to each other. I don't know, I guess I just like to look at maps, know where the characters are going because, generally speaking, I'm going along for the ride and I always like to know where I am! :)

Besides a map and list of terms/people, something else extremely important to an adventure story is character development. Sure, yeah, I know that most of you say this is a must for any good story, but I say a requirement for an adventure story.

Why is character development more important for an adventure story over others?

Well, as with stories in other genres, as lame as the adventure itself might be, the characters will be carrying the story, but that's not the only reason. Given any adventure, there are lulls in action - down times - for the characters while they wait for the next part of the adventure to begin.

Well-defined characters will always present interesting situations during those "down" times. For example, in a romance novel, the down time is usually when the first (or expected) sexual/sensual connection will occur. But that's not usually the case with non-romance adventure stories. Down time does not have that kind of fallback to move the story along. Sometimes, the chapter ends when the character goes to sleep and picks back up when they're awake or a scene break occurs and the reader gets a glimpse into something happening in another area of world.

However, resting points for the characters are great way to inject chaos and mayhem. One of the characters may run into an old friend who happens to be able to supply information that seems unnecessary at the time. Or, bump into someone, making them angry. Of course there's also one of my favorite ploys - a bounty hunter or someone the character is trying to avoid shows up, forcing some funny or dangerous situations.

These ploys are not unlike some of the situations in Amanda Quick novels. In one of them (sorry, can't remember the name), the main characters (man and woman) find themselves trapped in a brothel they were searching by the villain(s) of the story, so the pair hides in a prostitute's room, but realize that bad guy(s) isn't leaving, so they need to change the plan a bit - they pay the prostitute for some of the clothes she has, dressing the high society lady as a brothel wench, effectively disguising her enough to get her out of harm's way for the moment.

Injecting chaos and mayhem is important to most stories because it adds some humor, but it also complicates matters and makes the end goal that much harder to reach. Adventure stories need obstacles and side missions to stretch out and interfere with the task at hand to add complexity and depth to the story line.

However, these scenes don't work if the character isn't well-defined. The last thing an adventure reader wants to do is question why a character does what he or she does. By this I mean that the character's actions must match their personality. Do they apologize to the guy they bump into...stare them down into silence...ignore them?

Of course, what the character does here will reflect the personality painted from the beginning.

If a character is quick to believe something about someone or believe information from them, readers want to really be able to understand why. If a character doesn't confront another character about something, they want to know why, and that reason must make total sense to the reader and jive with what the reader knows of the character or the reader may not continue reading.

I'm getting sleepy now, so off to nap!

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