The 5 Infallible Plot Points of Rick Riordan

In less than two weeks, Rick Riordan will publish The House of Hades, the fourth book in the Heroes of Olympus series.  My biggest complaint about The Mark of Athena was its similarity to its predecessors.  In all ten of the mythology-based books published before it, Riordan had followed a basic formula, to varying degrees of success.  The Mark of Athena was no different– in fact, it was so formulaic I could almost predict the plot twists.  In fact, I did try to predict the entire book just after I had read The Son of Neptune about six months earlier.  It wasn’t exact, but it wasn’t far from the truth, either.

What can we expect, therefore, from this coming addition to the series?  Will it be predictable or will it blow us out of our socks?  Let’s run through a few things that Riordan can’t seem to live without.

1) The Prophecy.

The prophecy is a staple of hero stories.  It sets up the problem and the solution in a short period of time, and it’s up to the heroes to figure it out.  It is the call to action shouted through a megaphone instead of subtly enacted upon the hero.  Not only that, but it’s an opportunity to rhyme, and we all love rhymes.  (If you can’t smell the sarcasm, you’re reading it wrong.)

Riordan is in the unique– or is it cliched?– position of rewriting the Greek myths.  The Ancient Greeks had gods and oracles and the Fates.  Prophecies popped up everywhere.  There’s an army attacking?  I’ll just pop over to my prophecy superstore and pick up a couplet or two before I save the day.  Perhaps I’ll get a quatrain this time– or a sonnet!  The prophecy let the audience believe that their heroes were the chosen of the gods instead of mere men who liked decapitating things.

Did Riordan need the prophecy for the same reason?  Why, yes, I think so.  He wanted the chosen of the gods theme, but he also kept the prophecies loose so the characters would doubt themselves whenever they tried to fulfill anything.  Are they really the people the gods were talking about?  If they’re not, well, their wills are in the top drawer.  Make sure you bury their charred bones under the oak tree.

2) The Deadline.

Riordan always uses this.  He never goes without it.  The gods like solstices and boom, you have a deadline.  Do this before then, do that before then– we’ve got three days to do that and whoops, overslept.  He’s always got the deadline for the quest sitting in front of you, reminding you there’s a consequence if you take your time.  This causes the characters to make haste, make mistakes, and make suspense.

But why?  Why can’t he write a calm novel for once?  Because he wants things to go quickly.  He wants people to make mistakes.  He wants another reason for everything to be impossible.  That’s how he works.

I wonder sometimes what his stories would turn out to be if he didn’t have that deadline, if he didn’t have someone with a lightning bolt aimed at the main character’s head if he goes too slow.  He would probably find a way.  All his books would be thrillers.

3) The Sideshows.

Remember my cardinal rule?  Riordan follows it all the time.  If nothing is happening– and nothing can happen that pertains to the main plot– he adds a sideshow.  If the characters are slowly making their way across the country (but not too slowly because of the deadline) and the villain is just sitting there waiting for them, he introduces a new danger that has nothing to do with the plot.  Suddenly, hydra!  Suddenly, Medusa!  Suddenly, shrimp!  Amazons, mucky stables, chasms of doom!  When he’s at a loss for plot points, he opens his mythology index and selects one at random.  It keeps them from meeting their deadline and sidetracks them from following the prophecy.  Might as well.

4) The Secrets.

I don’t know that I’ve met a long-term side character in Riordan’s books who doesn’t have a secret.  Their godly parent, their mortal parent, their sisters, brothers, that one thing they promised to that demon of puddles– someone’s always hiding something.  Learning to trust friends– or betraying them now and apologizing later– is Riordan’s favorite form of character arc.  It’s a good one.  The only problem is, it’s the same one every time.

Secrets do create tension, especially between friends, but they aren’t that satisfying when they exist nor when they resolve.  There’s a nice punch when the antagonist calls them on their secret and they have to explain or seem like a traitor, but when it happens time and time again, it becomes too much.  Furthermore, hearing every character think “But I couldn’t let [best friend] know…” is annoying.

5) The Romance.

Riordan includes love triangles everywhere he can.  As I said in my review for The Mark of Athena, “Between Jason, Piper, Reyna, Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Hazel, Frank, and possibly even Festus the metal dragon head, there are untold combinations to be achieved.”  Everyone loves two people in these stories, and sometimes it’s a little irritating.  Such as, all the time.

Love triangles are great for romantic tension– I can’t deny that.  Unfortunately, just like secrets, they can be overused.  Riordan likes to ignore that, however, and he writes all the love triangles he can.  If he’s up for a challenge, I’d suggest a pentagon.

And, as a bonus…

6) The Tongue-Twister.

The Greek gods had funny names.  The Greek monsters had even funnier ones.  Whenever any of the main characters hears one, they seem to hear it incorrectly and make a joke about it.  At first it was funny, such as thinking “hubris” was “hummus”.  Now the puns are getting old.

Will The House of Hades turn out to be a copy of the previous books?  At this point, there’s no telling.  In two weeks, however, we will know for sure.

By the way, all of the techniques listed here are perfectly acceptable for any story you choose to write.  Just bear in mind that they are not to be overused, nor are they to be used all at once.  Riordan might sue you for plagiarism.

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23 Comments

  1. Robyn Hoode

     /  September 26, 2013

    I will keep your final warning in mind. But for the time being, the majority of my characters are too young for the triangles and pentagons and romance in general.

    Having not read the Heroes of Olympus series, I will not be joining you in the reading of this book once it has been published. Not yet, at least.

    Reply
  2. These plot points were actually the reason I had trouble finishing The Mark of Athena. The Percy Jackson series was my absolute favorite in elementary school, but the deadlines and mythological road blocks have been getting old. I kind of wish there was more to the stories than fighting the next random Greek monster that got in their way.

    Reply
    • Yes, I felt the same way. There were far too many mythological sidetracks in that book, and none of them that interesting. Once we’ve seen one god mad about his modern PR, we’ve seen them all. It’s too bad.

      Reply
  3. Oh, plot points aren’t the primary thing he overuses. With Riordan, “concept” means using the same idea fifty billion times until it becomes a typecast. I won’t call him creative. His stories, as you so rightly pointed out, are predictable. And if he’s so fond of writing teenage love triangles, he should just write that instead of even bothering with this heroes and villains “let’s go save the world” nonsense. HoO is an astoundingly bad series. Astoundingly bad. Every single character–including everyone’s much loved Percy and Anabeth–are whiny and annoying, and all they can think about is hot make-out sessions. The only character that seems to have more than one dimension is Leo. That’s why I even read the series. For Leo.

    It will be a while before House of Hades is released where I live, and yes, I’ll read it, but I can almost picture myself wanting to throw the book across the room.

    Reply
    • Oh, you’re funny. I don’t mean any offense, but there’s a hefty portion of the population who reads the series just for Leo. I don’t deny what you said, but it’s kind of funny to read.

      Do I agree with you? Yes and no. I think Riordan has the right idea with the “let’s go save the world” nonsense, as you call it, but he’s just fallen into a rut that he doesn’t seem to be able to get out of. Saving the world is great, but he’s forgotten the power of new stuff. And personally, I’d rather see more saving the world than love triangles.

      Reply
      • Oh yes, trust me, romance isn’t my thing. I pick saving the world over it any day. But what I don’t like is that Riordan puts too much sugar in a story that would do better with less. Would you eat a hamburger if it’s sweet? Cakes should be sweet. Hamburgers shouldn’t. Riordan seems to have forgotten what he’s trying to cook. If it’s an action novel, why is he making it into a teen romance?

        Though one thing I defend about him: the tongue twister. I suppose it does get boring and becomes ridiculous after a while, but he’s probably compelled to add them. Greek pronounciations are confusing and I think they’re to aid the reader. They’re like a hint to the name’s pronounciation.

      • Romance is a part of action as well. It’s a perfectly acceptable subplot, but as long as that “sub” remains in front of it. Riordan let it get out of hand, I agree.

        I can understand it when you’re trying to figure out anaklusmos or Hephaestus, but when you have a river god named Hapi, I don’t think there’s much pronunciation necessary.

  4. Honestly, the thing that got on my nerves the most about HoO were the chapters. They were short and had no structure and kept throwing me out of the story. Particularly in Mark of Athena.

    Now that you point some of this out, though, I can see your point. I don’t usually try to predict things unless its really super obvious or I’m bored (though I probably could predict a lot if I wanted to) so some of the plot twists did some as a surprise to me. Granted, I don’t really remember any off the top of my head. I noticed, also, that PJO was more memorable than HoO.

    The romance also isn’t exactly big with me—I’m not much into that stuff. I will say I’m a tiny bit curious about the Hazel/Frank/Leo thing and I do have a prediction of how that will end up…but the ending of Last Olympian was enough for me as far as Percy and Annabeth, and same with Lost Hero for Piper and Jason.

    Still. I’m excited for the book and I’ll be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it… Here’s to hoping it’s better than the others.

    Reply
    • Yes. The chapters in Mark of Athena were badly done. I realized after a while that he was putting his plot twists at the beginnings of chapters and solving them at the end, giving this overpowering optimism that wasn’t good for anything. Hopefully he can fix that.

      And that’s another problem. You hit the nail on the head– the ending of the Last Olympian was enough for you for Percy and Annabeth, and the Lost Hero for Piper and Jason. He doesn’t have anywhere to go with those arcs now, and it’s showing. This is one place where a sequel series with the same characters wasn’t the best choice.

      Agreed. I really hope he turns this series around to give us a good finale.

      Reply
      • Yes, the structure of the chapters was really messing up the tension and mood of the entire book. Heh. Now I know what *not* to do with my chapters. I’d like to think my chapters aren’t too bad, though.

        Exactly. If I was in his place, though, I’m not really sure what I would do instead, but I guess that’s the problem. There’s nothing to do with the romance with them.

        The one question I have now is what he’s going to do with the last book. I mean, I heard (not recently, though) that there’s going to be 5 books, right? So, if, supposedly, HoH is where they get around closing the Doors of Death, then what’s the last book for?

      • Indeed. It’s hard to know what I’d do in his place.

        Indeed. It could be that HoH is the last book of the series, but I doubt it– they’ll probably close the doors, then set about defeating Gaea in the last one.

  5. Oh love triangles. I hate them. So much. To the bottom of my feathery canary soul.

    Part of my frustration with them is my impatience with the girl (because usually it’s a girl; we are less sympathetic when it’s a guy) who likes both hunky Mr. Hunks, but oh dear oh my, can’t choose! Really? Girl, stop leading them on and go hiking, get a hobby, volunteer at an animal shelter, grow up a little. If you can’t pick between two guys, you’re not in love.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen a love triangle done well.

    Reply
  6. WARNING–MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD–READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

    I’ve only read The Lost Hero. I had a hard time finishing it. Here’s a breakdown of my problems with the major characters:

    JASON: Dull. So. Dull. He’s basically the same old “Prophecy Kid” archetype. Also, he’s actually rather incompetent–“I got to go find the one person in our party who can actually fend for himself, stay here with your broken ankle!” The worst character by far.

    PIPER: A little better, but not by much. The biggest problem? The whole big romance with Jason. OK, a little romance ain’t bad, since it IS the hero’s journey. But in Piper’s first chapter, I was like, “Oh… no… oh my God… gah…” I mean, come on, ‘his dreamy blue eyes’?!

    LEO: Leo was actually the best character in the whole book. But he’s filled with cliches! “My parents are DEAD!” “I’m a weirdo with no friends!” On and on and on. And he’s whiny–get some backbone, man!

    Plus, the fake-out Myst romance. We’ve never seen the Myst do that before. The Titan’s Curse showed us that it worked like a Jedi Mind Trick–minor changes to memory or perception. Not a whole major memory replacement! Yes, Hera is a godess–but even they have limits to their power. It felt like Rick just pulled it of his hat to give Piper more angst.

    I really liked PJO. I really did. But I’m going to say it right out: HoO SUUUUUUUUCKS. 2/10.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the input. Now, usually I’d suggest you delay judgment on the entire series until you’ve read more than the first book, but you aren’t far from the truth. Personally, I think Riordan has a few things he likes to overemphasize– as stated in the post– but he’s a good writer all the same and tends to write pretty good stories. Now, I agree with much of what you said, but allow me to point a few things out.

      JASON: I agree. He was far too perfect. However, if you’re saying his incompetence was a problem, does that mean you want him to be more perfect than he already is? (That would make him more dull, by the way.)

      PIPER: Piper does happen to be a daughter of Aphrodite, so I agree with the overdone romance thing, but she had a pretty good character arc. She did have a place in the story, which made her valuable.

      LEO: As full of cliches as he is, Leo was one of the best characters in the book. And as with Jason, I think you’re mistaking character development flaws for reasons not to like him. Backbone is fine, but if he had it, would he have any chance of developing?

      I agree about the Mist– we hadn’t seen that sort of trick before, and it was a little odd. However, you make the mistake of thinking that Riordan fully explained the Mist before, which he never did. It was never simply a Jedi mind trick. He didn’t explain it. If he had, I would completely agree with you, but as it is, I think he did fine. Now, about the fabricated romance, I think he explained that away pretty well too. It wasn’t as if he just threw it at us and expected the former explanation to work.

      I didn’t like the Lost Hero much either, nor the Mark of Athena, but I’m not giving up on Heroes of Olympus just yet. Try the Son of Neptune,and if it doesn’t pick up for you, drop it if you wish. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
      • Thinking about it now., I agree with most of your points. Piper did have a great arc, she just felt really angst-y. But, hey, I’ll try Son Of Neptune like you suggested. Hey, it’s from the library, meaning it will be free. 🙂

      • Excellent. There isn’t enough time to read every bad book, but if it’s free and has potential… why not?

      • DK

         /  October 9, 2013

        I’m so sorry to butt into a conversation that has nothing to do with me but I felt like sharing my opinion on Piper. If you ask me she’s the most hateful Mary Sue I’ve ever come across. In the first HoO book, it’s true that she did have a decent arc, but yes, she was angsty, and what made her angst even more annoying (at least for me) was that the darn woman doesn’t have any flaws. She’s beautiful (and Riordan does not fail to mention this in every second sentence), she’s (apparently) got a personality, she has eyes that change colour (which is considered a trademark of a Mary Sue, actually), and she’s supposed to be brave. Supposed to be. And she’s supposed to be a tomboy who doesn’t wear makeup and thinks all Aphrodite girls are stupid and makeup is stupid and Drew is stupid and basically anything even remotely girly is stupid, while all she is EVER doing is whining about Jason. I could literally skip entire pages about her talking about Jason and realise that I haven’t missed anything important to the plot.

        Anyway, yeah, sorry for the rant, and sorry once again for intruding. ^ That’s just my view, so I don’t mean to offend anyone 🙂

      • No problem. Your thoughts are welcome, although I did have to edit out a few nasty words. Please keep those in your head when commenting here.

        I do have an objection, however. She was not a Mary Sue, in the first place because the original definition meant a characterization of the author himself (which Piper is decidedly not), but that isn’t generally accepted anymore; and because she actually had character development and flaws. Arya from the Inheritance Cycle was a Mary Sue because she never changed and never failed. Piper changed over the course of the books, though after the first book she flatlined a little bit. If anyone was a Mary Sue, it would have been Jason, but even he had a character arc, if small.

      • DK

         /  October 10, 2013

        Whoa, I am SO sorry about the words. I’m usually careful but I guess they just skipped my notice this time. Sorry 🙂

        Still. Piper bugs me. All of them do.
        Debating whether to pre-order House of Hades or not. It won’t be released where I am for a while 😦

        Do you have it? If you do, what are your opinions? Worth pre-ordering?

      • No problem. I have godlike editing powers.

        I have House of Hades now, and I wrote a post about Rick Riordan that I’m just about to publish. Heroes of Olympus differs a lot from the original series, and not in a good way– but House of Hades is definitely one of the better books in the series.

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