Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Thriller, Noir, Social Drama, Political Tragedy. All of these indicate the type of subgenre a novel falls into and certain plot expectations that come with it. But more often than not, many novels switch gears, throw in a plot swerve, etc. And sometimes readers are frustrated. “I was sold an epic quest, not a tragic romance.” Which, granted, can be a pretty annoying thing. But in the industry’s mad dash to label books with shorthand references, many stories, especially character driven fantasies, get lumped into the wrong genre. And it creates false expectations for the reader.
Which, dear reader, is why SFF should draw back to the classic plot type that history may have forgotten: The Chronicle.
Some of the best novels use the chronicle plot: The Great Gatsby, All Quiet on the Western Front, Ethan Fr(ok, not this bore of a story.), Fallen Angels. The basic element of the Chronicle is this: They are novels that cover an extended period of time whose act plots may/often change throughout the story.
For example, Pillars of the Earth is 25 year chronicle of a small village where a great cathedral is being built. It is a historic fiction political drama that follows the lives of several characters against the backdrop of this cathedral’s construction. Part political intrigue, social drama, economic study, it doesn’t fit neatly into any plot driven structure. That’s because the characters actions, agendas, and reactions create the plot. The goals of the characters change with each mini-arc/crisis.
To get more specific and recent, let’s take a look at two recent examples: The Traitor Baru Cormorant and Kings of the Wild. Both couldn’t be more different: one’s a dark political thriller, while the other is a travelogue journey in the vein of DND. But both fit the basic criteria: They cover an extended time period and their plot shifts from arc to arc.
Baru Cormorant goes from being a low scale accountant mystery to a regional military fantasy over the course of its novel. It doesn’t stay in one place or follow one plot archetype. It involves political intrigue, economic tactics, a subtle romance, while following/chronicling Baru’s time in the setting. And that’s why it’s such a good novel. It’s overarching character goal/plot goal remains consistent but its structural mini-plots change.
Kings is a travelogue with a simple overarching plot: get to dangerous place x to get character y. That’s it. But the story encompasses regional politics, dungeoneering, bromance comedy, while still following it’s overarching plot/character goals.
This plot archetype works best for stories that cover more than 3+ months. If you’re writing a standalone that covers three years, then, yes, you have an chronicle plot. It’s important to understand these novels exist, will exist, and still are great additions to the genre of week long games where the female mc falls in love with the hawt mysterious guy helping her find her lost sister.