An odd topic in writing that appears from time to time (I’m told) is the side quest. These are momentary events that a hero will get involved in, which takes them away from the main plot. These are different from subplots because they don’t go very far. It’s a rather strange inclusion because of the short-term attention and typically material rewards for the characters. Personally, I’m not sure what books these are found in and maybe I’m misreading things. Sounds more like something out of a video game like above. Then again, one could say ‘Riddles in the Dark’ from ‘The Hobbit’ would fit into this category since it was a single chapter with a material reward.
Here are a few ideas to help make these events appear less like distractions and more like important factors for either the story or the character.
- Essential Item– It may be that such a diversion from the main plot comes up with an item that is essential to the outcome of the overall story. If not the story then something that improves the character’s abilities or gear. The event doesn’t go on long enough or deep enough to be a subplot, but its rewards impact the main story. Without this impact, you’re doing filler and padding pages. So, have the character do something and gain a magical item or even a clue to something that turns up later. The point of a scene like this is entirely about the rewards.
- Learn a Lesson– This can happen with characters that are arrogant, selfish, and other ‘negative’ traits. Some major plots can be undone by a character who doesn’t change these issues. It gets really rough when the plot doesn’t give any openings for this change to take place. A side quest spanning a chapter or a scene might be what is needed to clear this up. For example, a selfish hero is forced to protect a child from a pack of werewolves while on his way to his main objective. This might be a little strained and cliche, but it can get the job done.
- Foreshadowing– This works if done early in a book and series. A scene that appears to be relatively minor and benign turns out to be major later. The introduction of a future hero or villain would fall under this category. It can be something as simple as a bar fight in a tavern or a pickpocket chase. Somewhere in the scene is a key to the future that will make a reader go back and go ‘Ah-ha!’ Every now and then getting that reaction is more fun than anything else.