Today I’m going to talk about a particular approach to creating plots- the use of catalyst events and elements, which is just my term for any event or element that moves the story along. Normally, the grand skeleton of a story comes to me of their own accords but I find this catalyst event approach quite useful for filling up a particular plot arc. For example, I might have decided that a particular plot arc involves my protagonists adventuring in a desert and then I could just consult my list of catalyst events in order to fill up what the protagonists actually encounter during this desert plot arc. It also comes in handy when I’m particularly stuck on what happens to the protagonists next.
I was going for completeness of coverage for a fantasy story when I created the list and in total the list has about 100 items.
Roughly, they fall into 6 groups:
- Related to nature: natural disasters (famine, drought, earthquake, tidal wave, volcano eruption, typhoon, flood), weather related events that could have interesting interactions with the terrain and hinder protagonists’ movement (storm, blizzard, rainfall, fog, nightfall), other bad events (avalanche, pestilence), good events (bounty)
- Societal changes: “threats” from outside a society (war, different plane [of reality], divinity, alien sentience, breakout of ‘evil’ sealed in), change in authority (just ruler coming on, tyranny), within a people/group (dissension, corruption, conservatism, a break of tradition, a forbidden rule broken), discovery/rediscovery of knowledge, discovery of old/ lost civilisation
- Related to people, relationships and personal fortunes: life class, widening of social circle, growing apart from friends/lovers, increasing intimacy with someone, maturing/growing up, moving on versus stuck in the past, losing all/going on a brand new start, unemployment, sudden fame, personal loss, memory abnormality, minor illness/injury, reincarnation, being lost, being trapped, indecision, oversight, travel to foreign lands, mutation, exiled, poisonings, enslaved), power dynamics (old bloodline versus a new power), layers of truth (misunderstanding, misconception, mistaken impression, rumour/gossip, lie/untruth), character actions, not necessarily that of protagonists but all characters in general, I sometimes think actions by other characters besides protagonists are more interesting catalyst events (reunion, union of lovers, lovers who missed each other, a promise kept/broken, revenge, past trauma, family feud, oath/geis, family heirloom/duty, penance, personal sacrifice, act of generousity/mercy, act of small malice, act of curiousity)
- Sources of dispute: treasure, relic of power, legacy of power, ill begotten wealth, new ability that surfaces, racial/ethnic feud
- Symbolic elements and other standard troupe of fantasy: prophecy, dream/vision/oracle, illusion/mirage, a fortune telling, local lore, legends, curse, secret, portal, non-aging (effect of the Ring on Bilbo and Frodo in LoR, fountains of youth etc.), possession by ghost, secret meeting, duels, hauntings, sacrifices (as in cult sacrifices ala Indiana Jones style)
- Chance encounters: chance meeting/stranger, chance acquiring, mysterious note, overheard conversation