How to make an adventure novel more exciting – my opinions

I am a sucker for adventure stories. Fantasy/adventure is my jam. Defeating the Dark Lord? Yes. Heists? Give me it. Assassins and intrigue? SIGN ME THE FLIPPITY-FLAP UP. Some of my all-time favourite fantasy stories are rife with adventure, and its an element that lends itself really well to the genre besides. The exciting thing about a magical world is pushing its limits, and that’s sort of what adventure stories do.

But how do you write one?

I’ve been mulling over this recently and I think I’ve come up with a few ideas. Like all writing “advice”, this isn’t set in stone and opinions vary wildly. But this is just my view. Let me know what you think?

NOTE: Contains spoilers for Harry Potter, A Wizard of Earthsea, A Darker Shade of Magic, and probably even Star Wars.

1. Give Your Characters A Weakness

This one seems obvious because it’s character creation tip 101, but seriously, give them a weakness. Not one that’s cute or endearing and makes the love interest want them even more, but something that is a genuine hindrance to their quest.

A great example of this is that immortal classic, Harry Potter. In book five (spoiler alert), Harry’s insistence on facing Voldemort alone, and his headstrong refusal to learn Occlumency from Snape, a man he does not trust, results in Voldemort manipulating him. It ultimately leads to the death of Sirius Black.

Another great example is Ged’s behaviour throughout A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (which I recently read!). Spoiler alerts again, but Ged acts wilfully and childishly throughout the book. Driven by anger, pride, and hatred, he creates a dangerous shadow, and then lacks the courage to face it. And so the conflict in the book builds until Ged realises that the only way to find peace is to face the thing he has unleashed upon the world.

2. Up The Stakes!

Adventure novels typically are about external things. Which is to say, the “stakes” of the story are tangible on the outside. In Harry Potter, Harry’s failure to defeat Voldemort would result in the downfall of the wizarding world. The same is true in Star Wars, where the Empire would continue is reign of terror if the plucky heroes can’t stop it.

I also believe that high stakes shouldn’t always mean GLOBAL stakes. Stakes are just consequences, and consequences depend on what your character cares about. The consequence of failure could be as personal as the love of their life dying, or their family losing everything. This may be “small” from a global perspective, but it is enormous for your character.

My view on the matter is that “upping the stakes” means the consequences of failure should be enormous for your character. Now whether that means the End of the World or a personal tragedy, or something else entirely, that’s up to you. Stakes make the reader care about the character’s actions. As long as they do that, you’re on the right track.

3. Makes Us Care

Make your reader care about your character, and they’ll stick through anything. Half the battle is won when your reader wants to see your character succeed. Then, anything you do to your character will be an edge-of-the-seat thriller. I think “making readers care” is a good pointer anyway. If readers don’t empathise with your characters, they’ll be far less willing to read your story.

Compelling weaknesses and goals are a good way to start off on this. I personally fall in love with characters when I get to see their soft sides. I know that I struggled to read the first Shades of Magic novel (by VE Schwab) because I couldn’t figure out what or who Kell, the main character, cared about. (No hate on Schwab for this, she’s a fantastic writer and Kell is a complex and engaging character). But I didn’t like him until the moment he sacrificed himself for his brother. In that moment, I just fell in love with Kell and I haven’t stopped rooting for him since. Then again, I’m a sentimental sponge so any sign of love (familial, romantic, platonic) has me in tears.

The fastest way to get ME to care about a character is to show me who THEY care about. That’s just me though. All readers are different.

I won’t write more “advice” because the other opinions I have are too prescriptive to work. I’d like to say that story structure matters, and that your novel should be tightly plotted, but honestly, that can’t be true. Adventures can be fun even when they’re meandering and slow, and individual writers will have their own ways of telling their stories. There is no ‘one’ way to do this.

So while I do think that the three points I’ve elaborated on are important, I also know that there are a million ways to add excitement to a story that can’t be written down in a blog post. You’ll find your own path and that’s half the joy of the creative process!

I suppose the only think left to say is, happy writing, and enjoy the adventure 🙂

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