“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Adventure stories have been around as long as fiction itself. There are adventure stories in the Bible and in ancient mythology, and some of the first fiction authors wrote tales of adventure (Homer’s Odyssey, anyone?).
To combine the definitions found on Merriam-Webster’s website, an adventure is an exciting or remarkable undertaking usually involving danger or risk. As with every genre or sub-genre, there are some basic rules that apply to adventure stories.
Here are five elements to include when writing your next great tale of adventure.
A Hero We Can Root For
The backbone of every adventure story out there is the hero to whom the adventure belongs. You need a hero! He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and… just kidding! It doesn’t matter if your hero is Shaq-tall or Hobbit-short, male or female, regular Joe or animated talking animal — all that matters is that the audience is able to relate to them in some way.
That’s the key to this first element of great adventures. Not only do you need a hero, you need a hero that the audience can root for. Because if the audience can’t — or worse, doesn’t want to — root for your hero, they won’t care about the story either. As entertainment-loving, eager moviegoers, we want a protagonist we ourselves would follow into battle. Well okay, maybe not follow into battle, maybe just hang out with on a Saturday — still, you get the idea.
A Rock-Solid Goal
Now that you’ve found the hero of your dreams, they need a goal. Something to discover, work toward, achieve, steal, accomplish, etc. Without a goal, your hero is just an everyday dude. Without a goal, you can’t have the adventure.
The goal can’t be too easy though, or else why is your hero working toward it? No. Your hero needs a goal that’s just slightly out of reach. This makes them active and gives them something to do, an oh-so-important element of all great adventures.
Life or Death Stakes
The thing about goals is that they can’t be meaningless. And by that I mean, if the hero achieves the goal and nothing changes or gets better, what’s the point? There have to be stakes attached.
Stakes are the big IF.
If the hero doesn’t achieve his or her goal, then something bad and terrible will happen and maybe even death! There has to be a reason your hero wants whatever he or she wants, which means there’s a set of consequences that will happen if your hero achieves or doesn’t achieve that goal. Stakes are crucial. Like the hero without a goal, a goal without stakes is irrelevant (at least in the eyes of the viewer, that is).
Obstacles to Overcome
Once your hero sets out on the adventure, it can’t be all smooth sailing. If that’s the case, what’s the point of the adventure tale?
With every adventure comes obstacles along the way. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems in an adventure, and for good reason. Audience members want to see that the hero is worthy of getting what they want, so the hero must be challenged in their attempts to attain their goal. They must prove — to the audience and themselves — that they can do it.
These obstacles can’t be small potatoes. They must be nearly insurmountable. They must test the hero to their very core. They must almost defeat the hero, or bring the hero to the point at which they consider giving up. Only then can the hero succeed.
The Journey of a Lifetime
The last element of great adventures is the journey, the adventure itself. The hero, in pursuit of a goal they must achieve because of the stakes, must overcome the obstacles on the quest. Whether that be the journey to Mordor in Lord of the Rings or the cool kids party in Booksmart, no adventure story is complete without that epic journey.
Every journey is an arc, and the key to this element of adventure tales is that your hero undergo some kind of dramatic change. Whether they learn a lesson, admit something important, or grow as a human being (or Hobbit), the hero must complete his or her arc for the adventure to be complete.
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.