Quest for the Shattered Something: The Collecting Plot

Triforce from Legend of Zelda

There are many types of quests out there, which have been used throughout mythology, history, and fiction.  You have hunting down a villain, finding a mentor to save the world, and the long journey.  Another that doesn’t turn up as often as I originally thought is the ‘Collecting Quest’.  Not the official name, but I couldn’t think of any other way to name this specific plot line.  So, what does it entail?

It’s rather straightforward and you probably know by the name.  A set of ‘things’ or parts of a single ‘thing’ have been spread out across a landscape.  They are needed to stop whatever the antagonist is about to do.  A great example is the Triforce from ‘Legend of Zelda’, which you need to gather the pieces of to defeat Ganon.  On a less world-saving level, you have Pokemon where you have to catch them all.  So, the set is not always of things that can be physically connected.  You can have other people hunting for these with their intentions either to replace the hero, solve a personal problem, or help the villain.  The core point of these stories is that the protagonist is searching for these items, which fall into the MacGuffin category.  There, I used the word, so nobody has to say I was avoiding it any more.

The funny thing is that I started this topic thinking I’d have a ton of references.  Yet, I found that I was sticking almost exclusively to video games (Legend of Zelda), cartoons (Pirates of Dark Water), and comics (Inuyasha).  You have it kind of turning up throughout the Marvel movies since Thanos is gathering the Infinity Gems or the final book of Harry Potter with the Horcruxes.  Still, I’m finding that I’m hard pressed to think of more literary examples.  ‘Lord of the Rings’ would have been this if they were gathering all of the magic rings instead of trying to destroy the One Ring.  Anyway, I’m really saying that novels don’t use this plot line nearly as much as other media.

A reason could be that it is fairly simplistic and can get routine.  In Legends of Windemere, the champions need to cleanse all of the temples and regain their power.  I realized early on that this could get rather boring if it was nothing more than a series of dungeon crawls.  That’s why the series has a solitary story for each book alongside the overarching one.  For example, Charms of the Feykin involves the temple that Delvin Cunningham has to clear, but not until the end.  The rest of the story involves the mysterious happenings that caused Delvin and Sari to suddenly claim themselves to be the Feykin’s Generals.  This story line gives them another reason to enter the temple and fix what has gone wrong instead of simply powering Delvin up.  These ‘dungeon crawls’ also lead to something important for the characters.  Delvin and Nyx became closer on this story, Timoran’s allowed him to regain his confidence, Luke had a difficult decision, and the list keeps going.

The point is that you need to do more than the collecting of items, which become nearly background.  I think many authors who attempt this try to make it the only highlight instead of having it be the vehicle.  Character development and personality will be a big driving force for the audience to care about the story.  I’m currently reading ‘Rave Master’, which is a manga where the hero has to gather the 4 pieces of an artifact that can defeat an evil one.  I’m more interested in the characters and how they evolve than the actual quest because they stand out.  They have flaws and personalities, which overshadows the fact that this is nothing more than an elaborate ‘Collecting Quest’.  This difficulty might be why you don’t see it in novels that often, especially since it works best in a more episodic style instead of it getting drawn out.

So, what do you think of this kind of story?  Can you think of any examples?  Is it more a piece of the foundation than the whole show?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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26 Responses to Quest for the Shattered Something: The Collecting Plot

  1. I love this post. To me, all plots should be in the background. The characters should drive the story. I never thought of this one before, and may use it myself one day. One of my next stories is going to feature a hunt for meteors to create something with. Do the shards used to forge Aragorn’s sword count? There was no specific quest to find them. How about the cursed Aztec gold Captain Barbosa and friends had to gather back up. Occurred off screen too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a little torn on story vs character. Both are essential and can drive each other. Too much of one can hurt the other.

      I’d say the sword shards are an accidental find. Not really a quest, but a plot device to push things ahead. The gold feels more like a quest. They were consciously going for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you on what’s needed for a story, but plot is like underwear. You need it, but don’t want to make it too obvious. It should just make everything else work. Too bad the gold quest didn’t occur in the story. It’s hard thinking of something beyond horcruxes and infinity gauntlets. Scrounging parts to build C3PO???


      • In movies? Tough one, but I want to think the collection plot has appeared at times. Personally, I’d say the plot is more shirt or pants than underwear. People need to see it and know it’s there, but keep it basic enough to not steal all the attention. (Not sure we’re the right ones for fashion-based analogies.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re probably right. This plot idea is really working for me though. Aside from my meteors, I kind of want to play with it in more depth. Parts of an ancient, even alien, machine. Add in a ticking clock to make things urgent, and some kind of Def Con One situation. Could be fun. My head is spinning with ideas now.


      • I’ve been finding that video games have collection quests more than books and films these days. Might be more fun when it’s interactive.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Spell components, like when Voldemort was reconstituted. There could be a quest element in stopping the bad guy from getting the ingredients. So much potential here.


      • Those are fun. Sorry to break topic. Sent you an email, but kind of jumped the gun on an answer. Sorry about that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll check it out.


      • There actually was no quest for pieces of Aragorn’s sword because they were gathered and preserved at the time it was broken. I suspect also that Tolkein was not trying to achieve what contemporary fantasy authors are in the Lord of the Rings. He wanted to write a grand epic and it took as long as it took. Whereas we now know we have a trilogy to fill, if you see what I need.


      • Tolkien really did have a lot of leeway since the genre wasn’t established. He wasn’t even thinking that way since he wanted to make a mythology as much as he made a story.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ashleyhouck says:

    So I read this post and immediately started looking up this topic but find that you are right. There aren’t many literary examples. I’ve never really thought too much about this type of writing but agree that it shouldn’t be the only thing going on in a story or it will become routine and boring. It makes an interesting idea of trying to write it in a story though.


  3. tidalscribe says:

    I think the quest for rare plants has been a fascniating real story over the centuries. People trecking up mountains and through jungles to find plants to take back, plants that now live in our great botanic glass houses. But the search is not over yet; all our drugs come from plants – from the ancient Yew tree to the Foxglove. A modern adventurer would go to the Amazon rain forest seeking out plants for miracle cures, trying to find them before the enemy who seeks to use them to hold the medical world to ransom…


  4. L. Marie says:

    Such a good post, Charles. I can’t think of other examples besides Legend of Zelda and Pokemon Sun/Moon, where you had to find all of the Zygarde cells to make one Pokemon. But even in that instance, it was a post-game quest.


  5. Not sure I have a comment but your thought process blows me away. I think you do so well with complex stories that have at their core a simple idea. (Clean the temples). Very impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Sword Of Shannara, by Terry Brooks is another example of gathering bits I think.😎

    Liked by 1 person

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