On Twitter recently, @MLSpencer1 suggested what we really need is a magic 8 ball for writer’s block faced by fantasy writers. When you can’t figure out what happens next, give the magic 8 ball a good shake and it comes up with a helpful suggestion like “they all die”.
Other genres have their fixes for a stuck plot, like a man runs in with a gun. Guns are out in a lot of fantasy worlds, but we have other solutions.
So next time your plot grinds to a halt, roll a die and throw in one of these guaranteed fixes.
1. Secret underground world
Because if this world isn’t providing enough excitement you can add thrill by creating another world and stacking them on top of each other.
The ground beneath the characters’ feet trembles and, in a shriek of rock, drops away. They tumble after it into a darkness that smells of earth, and bounce off rocks and exposed roots. When they come to rest, battered but alive, the dust settles, and they find themselves in a secret underground kingdom. With dinosaurs, of course.
Will the long lost society of dinosaurs prove friend or foe? Will the companions ever get home?
2. Dragon attack
Because any argument at the kitchen table can be made more exciting with dragons.
The sun streaming in the window is cut off by a shadow and they hear the whoosh of huge wings. The windows explodes inwards and through it bursts a ravenous dragon, mouth open and ready to snatch them up and carry them away.
Can they overcome their differences long enough to survive the dragon attack? Will the crisis cause them to fall in true love?
3. The chosen one
Because no fantasy is complete without a random child being chosen by fate to save the world.
Sarah, the eight-year-old orphan with no particular skills or personality, walks solemnly to the campfire and turns to face the party.
“There’s something you should know,” she says. “I am the Chosen One and I’m here to save the world.”
“Not tonight. It’s past your bedtime.”
Will Sarah come into her own, grow a personality, and convince her parental-stand-in companions to let her stay up late enough to save the world?
4. The half-elf
Because every story needs angst from a teenager who doesn’t fit in either in the human world or the elven one.
The air inside the cave mouth seems to shimmer, but maybe it’s just the heat. They rush through, mere yards ahead of the ogre’s club. Inside the cave they turn to each other.
“Is everyone here? Is anyone hurt?”
But wait, stock teenager #3c looks different. He’s taller, more slender and pale, and those ears! By the heathen gods, he’s no man at all but an elf.
“I’m only half elf,” he says. “I never fit in with the elves or among people. I’ve been an outsider all my life and woe is me.”
Should they feed him to the ogre?
5. We’re hungry, we’ve run out of bread and cheese, and the horses can’t go any farther
Because fantasy travellers subsist on bread and cheese, and their horses can canter all day without tiring.
But what if the travellers have actual dietary requirements and the horses are made of flesh? What if the characters develop scurvy from lack of vitamin C and the horses collapse beneath them?
They’re deep in enemy territory, injured and desperate, and now they’re all terribly bad-tempered because they’re starving. Who won’t withstand the temptation of cannibalism?
Because it’s not only horses that might refuse to go any farther.
Escaping the advancing hordes of the Dark One involves a lot of walking and probably not enough changing of socks. Cue terrible blisters. They inflate, they rip, they bleed. Maybe they won’t kill the characters, but they might make them fed up enough to try something desperate.
If it’s face the hordes or walk farther with those blisters, the hordes might not look so bad.
7. Arrow from the bushes
Because archers are awesome, and hidden archers who stealthily kill a plot-essential character are even better.
An arrow flies from a patch of scrub and strikes blond companion #1 in the heart. He falls from his horse, dead as an anvil. Oh no! They’d relied on him to lead them to the portal in the mountain fortress and now he’s not leading anyone anywhere.
How ever will they reach the portal before the undead hordes spill through from the other side and destroy the world?
Because nothing shakes up a stroll through the countryside like a stampede.
They hear a rumble that sounds like thunder, but instead of dying away it builds until the ground trembles. Over the rise surges a herd of unicorns in full stampede, their eyes filled with madness and their horns protruding like lances.
The companions panic and flee. Will they survive? Will they ever find each other again? Who else will find them first?
9. A curse
Because nothing makes a quest more complicated than a curse that exists for no reason.
All young hero has to do to save the world is reach out his hand and pull the sword from the horse trough, but he shoves his hands deep in his pockets and fixes his gaze on the ground.
“Do it,” his companions say.
“Because when I was a lad I was cursed by an evil witch. She said if I ever drew a sword from a horse trough my, ah, instrument would turn black and fall off. Much as I want to save the world, I can’t take the chance. I’m sorry.”
Too bad, world.
10. Hamster attack
Because nothing is as terrifying as an attack by an adorable fluffy little creature.
The hamster launches itself at Hero’s face, teeth bared. Hero throws up his hands just in time. The hamster latches onto his finger, its teeth sinking through layers of flesh and grating against bone.
Hero roars and shakes the hamster free, spattering blood across the magician’s den. He clamps a hand around the wound to staunch the bleeding.
The hamster rolls to its feet and leaps for Hero’s jugular. Can Hero survive the deadly onslaught?
Or instead of rolling a ten-sided die (good luck with that) you could try to figure out what’s wrong with your story that’s causing the writer’s block and fix that instead. It’s your story, so it’s entirely your call.
What else might go on the fantasy writer’s magic 8 ball?
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