Writing Excuses 9.24: Side Quests

Side quests come in a couple of forms — they may be something inside the book that takes the characters away from the main plotline, or they may be adventures that take place outside of the book itself.

We talk about the first type, and how to make sure they’re in the book for the right reasons, citing examples from The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Redshirts, The Way of Kings, and The Hollow City among other stories.

In covering the second type, we talk about how ebooks have made ancillary, side-quest releases more common, and we cite the book trailers for the Partials series, the Glamourist Histories Christmas Stories, Steelheart, and the Schlock Mercenary Bonus Stories.


Create a story in which you have an incredibly powerful character, and a sidekick, then flip the relationship so the sidekick is in charge.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy and Todd Harris, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

11 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 9.24: Side Quests”

  1. So now I’m curious. Where can I get Mary’s homework with Jane and Vincent? I can’t find it on her website…

  2. “Because they don’t have enough XP to beat the boss yet”
    I’ve actually read books that feel like they were written that way. After doing some research, it turns out said books were based on a game (or was it a game series) that was, in turn, based off the author’s earlier books. Please, if any of you end up getting a video game based off your work, let people play the video game to get the storyline rather than turning it into a book. Specifically, Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Legacy (as opposed to the Riftwar Saga, and possibly Legends of the Riftwar, which are actually books.)

    I didn’t catch any references to the Hobbit (despite it being mentioned in the liner notes)… There’s 2 kinds of side-quest in the Hobbit. There’s things like the trolls, the spiders – plot complications with little to no impact on the main plotline. The trolls and spiders have nothing to do with the quest for the Arkenstone and the Battle of the Five Armies, nor really how they progress from the Shire to the Mountain. (Remember, we’re talking the book, not Peter Jackson’s vastly expanded dramatization thereof). If I had read *just* the Hobbit, I’d have no idea why trolls had traveled that far south, or why Mirkwood was infested with giant spiders…they’re just there. (The Misty Mountains and Elves aren’t sidequests, since both of them have a direct impact on the story – Misty Mountains gives the goblins a reason to attack and gives Bilbo the Ring; the encounter with the Elves lets them reasonably show up for the Battle of Five Armies). It also has the whole Necromancer plotline, with Gandalf and the White Council and Dol Goldur and all that stuff that’s really just way to dark for the kids book Tolkien was writing, which exists entirely outside the plotline of the book itself. I have a couple of family members who say they don’t remember certain things in the movie from the book, and I keep having to remind them that the book is Bilbo’s travelogue, not everything that happened during that time period; the movie is trying to cover everything. (Of course, unlike the modern side-stories, Tolkien never got around to publishing Gandalf’s adventures with the Necromancer; it’s only when his notes were made public that it came out.)

    I must say, I really like that writing prompt. Most decent answers to it will be heavily founded in Brandon’s Second Law (Limitations are greater than Powers), since you need a reason for the “inferior” partner to take the lead role (aside from being a commanding officer like Nick Fury, since that’s different from being a sidekick).

  3. On the writing prompt–hasn’t Brandon already done that? in The Rithmatist, Melody, who has magic powers, is a de facto sidekick for Joel, who has no magic powers, even though he knows more about the magic than most of the actual magicians.
    Of course, that doesn’t make this not an awesome exercise . . . .

  4. About the writing prompt, that was sort of done in Edge of Tomorrow. Emily Blunt is more the mentor to start with, but she trains Tom Cruise well enough that he is able to take charge later on. I found that really interesting and can’t remember seeing it done elsewhere.

  5. Howard *finally* explained XP as experience points, but while I was waiting for it, I had to reach into my memory of playing Nethack. The point: remember to explain your abbreviations early.

  6. Someone should invent some sort of “gadget” to “find” out things like that. They could call it a “find gadget”. I bet there’d be money in a thing like that!

  7. Then when someone wants to know something, you could just tell them to Find-Gadget it. I can see this catching on, actually.

  8. The Hobbit mention was how the side quests that Bilbo(et al) ends up different after each side quest, with either more gear (like Sting/Ring) or with less (after the barrel ride). They contrast that with the LOTR side quest of Tom Bombadil. Then they moved right along, trying to avoid the Tom Bombadil controversy.
    (You should be able to Find-Gadget all about Tom Bombadil on the internet)

    There’s a book: The Philosophical Strangler (Eric Flint), which is pretty much the writing prompt too. But a Pratchett-esque take on it.

  9. Mary’s comment about characters in peril and how it’s nice to have something nice and calm sometimes reminds me of an episode of the original ‘Avatar’ series. In the third ‘book’ We have Zuko and a group of the Fire Nation teens go to the beach. They hang out, play volleyball, go to a party. . And really nothing terribly exciting or important to the story’s plot happens, but seeing these characters do things that are so NORMAL in a fantasy world was a lot of fun. It also let the audience see how some of these characters act or feel when their lives aren’t in drama. It gives new insight that is very interesting and a great way to learn more about the characters, and remind the reader or audience that they are human. It makes them feel more real.

    Love the writing prompt by the way. :)

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