I’ve spent large chunks of the past two days trying to figure out if the successful first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, The Ruins of Gorlan, fits into the plot structure described by writer Larry Brooks.
Let me back up a bit. I’m on a mission to learn more about how to structure a middle-grade fantasy that appeals to readers, so I’ve set out to compare the structure of the books I’ve reviewed so far on this blog with the structure described by Larry Brooks on his website. I chose that particular structure because I think I understand it fairly well, and most other descriptions of plot structure leave me as baffled as the question of why people buy and eat marshmallow Peeps.
My hypothesis was that although most books probably wouldn’t fit the structure like hand in glove, they wouldn’t deviate by much, either. There might be a chipped fingernail here or there, but no actual missing fingers. This was true of the first book I analyzed, The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. However, no matter how I slice and dice The Ruins of Gorlan, I can’t make it fit the glove, not even a little bit.
The attempt was a fail from the word go. There’s no hook at the beginning of The Ruins of Gorlan unless you chop off the prologue. If you axe the prologue, though, you can argue there’s a hook at the outset of chapter one. There the reader learns the young main characters must choose their future occupations the next day, and there’s a chance the applicants will be rejected, in which case they are doomed to become . . . electrical engineers! No, I kid you. I put that in for my husband. They’re doomed to become farmers, which irritated me a lot because I grew up in a farming area and consider farming a noble and worthwhile occupation.
There are one or two candidates for an inciting incident and a big midpoint event in The Ruins of Gorlan, but after that, things really fall apart. I even tried looking at the book as two different, sequential stories: one about two boys finding their paths in life and defeating three bullies, and the other about dispatching the evil Kalkara monsters. That didn’t work either.
Nevertheless, many readers adore this book, and those readers include my son. He first read this book two years ago, at the age of twelve. Since then, he’s read every other volume in this series. Why? He likes the characters, the descriptions of apprenticeship training, the ordered society described in the book, the slow build to action, and the thorough descriptions of battle in a later volume in the series. “Most writers build up to battles,” he says. “They make it really suspenseful, but then they only give you a little action before they switch to the aftermath. Here you get the whole battle.”
So what about the prologue? I strongly suspect these few pages would have garnered the manuscript an instant form-letter rejection from most if not all agents in the United States.
“Tell me about that prologue,” I said to my son. “What did you think of that?”
“Oh, I didn’t read it. I never read his prologues. I skip right to the first chapter.”
Interesting. Next I’m moving on to a third victim, The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett.