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The Random Encounter – The Guide to Moving Your Story Forward


The classical random (there's always a classic.): This is the sort you see in just about any old RPG, or RPG comic, and probably most current ones as well – that person or thing you randomly meet so you can be sent off in a random direction and never have to meet them again.

Yeah, it works well enough for games I suppose – but I don't recommend it in a story… get around it wherever possible. One thing I saw in the Wheel of Time books (by Robert Jordan) was having the rumors and such be heard OFFSCREEN, and delivered to the characters by someone they know. You still get your information, but without the useless extra faces.

The only real reason to put in someone random is for some bit of symbolism, as a general rule, so unless you wanna get real deep – or are prepared for your readers wondering if the old farmer is actually a reference to an ancient Norse God – you might wanna avoid the classics.

The seemingly "random.":  That's right… sometimes your random? Isn't random. Maybe they were placed there by someone else, or they are someone else in disguise. Maybe it's part of a convoluted plot twist which will end who knows where!

…Maybe it's too bloody dramatic. This can actually work out pretty well, but be careful – if everyone you meet was put there by someone else, than the whole thing is just going to get ridiculous…

The alternative to this is the "Bound to Happen Encounter."

The monster encounter: Come on. Do I need an explanation? You fight, one dies, or maybe you get a new companion… On to the next one!

Bound to Happen Encounter – It's sorta like the seemingly "random," only without such a concrete plot. The villain didn't put a particular person in your way to lead you to a trap – they spread a rumor that was destined to filter through the townspeople and eventually reach your ears. Not so good for bringing you to a specific location, perhaps, unless it's a pretty decent rumor… but it takes a lot less planning, and less luck than you'd think. You just have to make sure that whatever rumor you're spreading is going to end up better for the exaggeration bound to happen in the retelling.

The Repeated Encounter: Yep; sometimes your random encounter comes BACK. Then they come back again. And again. And again, until you just wanna scream that you thought you were done with them when you went and killed that beast that was plaguing that village they'd never actually gone too but had heard about.

This can be done well, or badly… It depends on how much you're willing to leave to coincidence. Robert Jordan did it well, but only because he had the idea that certain people twist the Pattern around them. If time and space is shifting to make what has to happen happen, than it's no coincidence if those who get caught up in it keep running into each other, right? Right?

Seriously, though, you probably won't be able to do it without at least a few prophecies, some gods, and a basic overall destiny. Keep it to the fantasy, people, or else have it happen Once In a Blue Moon.

Once in a Blue Moon encounter: You guessed it, you meet… once in a blue moon. Maybe you'l see them randomly at some point in a story later. Maybe you'll give them a cameo in a comic to see what fans will remember them, perhaps just a face in the crowd that stands out a little better than the others. An Easter egg. Who knows what you'll do – I doubt even you know what you'll do – but the basic point is, you decided to actually follow the laws of probability. Congratulations! The story may or may not come out less interesting for it, but dang it all, science will thank you for not kicking it when its down! (Particularly if you also write with cat girls, insane robots, and zombies that just want to feel LOVED, dang it!)
The loooooooovely encountered: Sometimes, it's a beautiful woman. This will often lead to one of three things: Betrayal, love interest, or jealousy with a current love interest. Perhaps a combination of the above… fact is? Beautiful women don't generally walk into the story for no reason. The readers expect it, and while you CAN deny them… let's face it, it can be a delicate balance between writers and readers sometimes. Deny them too often, and they might stop reading - Doing something original with the beauty is wonderful. Simply going on about how beautiful she is and then doing nothing? That's just gonna make people MAD.

The Old Acquaintance/Friend encounter: Oh, god I hate these… They almost never end well.

Meet an old friend on the road after years (particularly when running from something), and there's about a seventy five percent chance they were placed there. Avoid that trap, and there's still a seventy percent chance they'll betray you – for the acquaintance at least, and probably the friend at will. There's almost no chance they're going to just leave, either, unless they'll be taking a piece of the story with them to continue it in a different direction (while your own characters continue what they're doing, no doubt.) So generally the best you can hope for is that this random person will become part of the party and do something good for ya.

If done right, it can work out well… But just about every reader knows that meeting that "Old friend I haven't spoken to for ten years!" at an inn besides the road is a bloody nuisance.

The Old Enemy encounter: Surprisingly, this will often work out better for you… Oh, sure, if they ARE the villain… well, if they are the villain it's not a random encounter, it just seems like one. As it stands, you might not have gotten along in the past – but maybe you'll be forced to work together. Or maybe you're more rivals than true enemies, and he'll buy you time to escape because – dang it all – he's the only one allowed to defeat you and they should know it!

Chances are, your character won't trust them… in fact, if they suddenly decide TO trust them, it's probably bad writing – and if the character EARNS your hero's trust, than… Well, that continues in Continued Encounter.


The: "I thought you were dead!" encounter: rarely works out well. They almost always come back as villains, or at least people not to be trusted. Generally, they even faked their own deaths! I mean, what jerk doesn't say something like "I'm aliiiiiive!" Worse, if they are good? They'll probably run away, again. "For your own good," of course, but still… it's pretty dang hard to make those idiots stay still, stay dead, or even just stay under the same name.

Continued Encounter: Whether friend or foe, sometimes people just tag along. If someone's already trusted, there's actually a good chance of betrayal – and if someone's distrusted, the reverse is often true. What you have to watch out for is the villain who EARNS your trust, and the friends who LOSES it. Usually, the friend has an explanation, and the villain turns around and stabs you later – or, more likely? They just seem like they will.

It's a classic and wonderful trick to convince your readers that some character is going to do something bad, get them all riled up and hateful for this character, and then dash it all to laughs by having them turn out to be good instead. Or maybe have a burst of conscious do to their time together… by that last bit, though, there's only one way to truly recover – they have to die, or at least be willing to (probably coming so close you really think they will die in the process. ) The relief the readers feel when they survive is enough to start the healing process for characters and heroes alike, as a rule.


There might be more than this; I might even add more to this – In fact, I probably will. But anyone feeling stuck in the plot should be able to use one of these to get the story going, if they don't mind bringing in a new or old person.
It's been a while since I wrote one of these, but I've got some in my gallery. Let me know if there's anything else you want a guide too. :)

The real name of the guide is in the deviation, but it wouldn't fit in the title bar.
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:iconpixiehaven:
PixieHaven Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Very helpful! Thank you!
Reply
:icondragon8writer:
dragon8writer Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2010
:D

*Goes to write an introducing your character one* real quick, and only because it gave me pause earlier... annoyed me.
Reply
:iconpixiehaven:
PixieHaven Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Just read it! :D
Reply
:icondragon8writer:
dragon8writer Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2010
Hurrah! like?
Reply
:iconpixiehaven:
PixieHaven Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yush! It was great!!
Reply
:icondragon8writer:
dragon8writer Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2010
Hurraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! :d
Reply
:iconsebastian-shrikes:
sebastian-shrikes Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2010
Just in time for NaNoWriMo! :dummy:
Reply
:icondragon8writer:
dragon8writer Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2010
I knoooooow! It's a good thing I wrote these guids...
Reply
:iconsebastian-shrikes:
sebastian-shrikes Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2010
Indeed!
Reply
:icondragon8writer:
dragon8writer Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2010
:)
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