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Thread: The Road Goes Ever On and On...

  1. #1
    Left-Handed Writing Fairy folclor's Avatar
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    The Road Goes Ever On and On...

    So, I figured this would be a topic for the Scifi/Fantasy forum even though it's a problem any genre could possibly face. It seems particularly prevalent here.

    I'm writing a fantasy novel. I'm not going to say it's an epic fantasy because I don't know that for sure, but I've come upon a problem. My MC and her companion are about to set off on the journey to another part of the world, kicking off the travelling. But how does one make travelling interesting? Particularly at first where it seems ill-advised to throw every adversity the character's way?

    I'm well versed in Lord of the Rings and could take that as an example, but I find those passages can be quite long and, unfortunately, boring, particularly in Two Towers when the book focuses on Sam and Frodo. I and many of my friends tend to gloss over much of that. But here I am in a similar (sort of) situation. No, my characters aren't wandering through a wasteland, but there are only two of them. More will eventually join, but just two means it's less opportunity for varied interaction. Which can be good, lead the readers into a sense of familiarity with the base two, but I worry about making it boring.
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  2. #2
    Resist. Love. Go outside. Marlys's Avatar
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    Either make the travel interesting--as in, having them meet people or do things that advance the plot--or cut it: Two weeks later, they stood outside the Black Gate.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    If interesting things are happening while they travel, include the interesting bits. If there's nothing interesting happening, leave it out. Just because your characters have to suffer through every tedious mile of the journey doesn't mean that we readers have to be there with them. We'll be glad to rejoin them when the story picks up again.

  4. #4
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Is the story about the journey, or is it about what happens when they arrive? If it's the latter, does anything that affects the plot directly, or leads to character growth, happen on that journey? If not, you can probably skim or summarize the journey, telling the reader just enough information to provide context for their situation when they arrive.

    It's also possible to show the important parts of the journey, or just enough to give the reader a sense of the setting and of the costs it imposes on the characters, and to summarize the rest.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 09-13-2017 at 10:02 PM.
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  5. #5
    Left-Handed Writing Fairy folclor's Avatar
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    I'd never actually thought about skipping it entirely. No, the journey isn't particularly important.
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  6. #6
    Searching for dragons Blinkk's Avatar
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    Sometimes I focus on character building during long travels. I'll "speed up" time, so we're not with them every single day. I'll jump ahead a few days and then zoom in on one particular event. For example maybe there's a really interesting conversation that digs into the MC's past as the characters are settling down to make their evening fire. I'll get really detailed with that one conversation, but I won't include anything else about that particular day because nothing else is interesting. Once the conversation/character building is over, I'll jump ahead days at a time.

    Once on the two week journey to Barburna, the trading capital, I made my characters accidentally stumble onto an illegal steem grow (based off of pot grows). They almost ended up murdered by a cute doggie named Molly, but in the end, they characters stole a horse, and ended up arriving in Barburna extra early because of the horsepower.

    I use that second idea sparingly. I'm more for speeding up time/character building on long journeys.

  7. #7
    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    Seconding the suggestion to cut the travel scenes if nothing important happens in transit. You are under no obligation to write a real-time travelogue of the journey if the most interesting thing that happens is they saw a stick. (Even if it's a really, really cool stick, unless that stick is important to the plot or provokes a character-building incident, it's not necessary for the reader to know about it. They can talk about the stick once they're at their destination and a few mugs into their ale at the inn.)

    Have you read other books where long distances are covered by the characters (fantasy or otherwise)? How do the authors handle travel? Learn from those who have gone before you...
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  8. #8
    Preparing for winter VeryBigBeard's Avatar
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    ...down from the door where it began.

    Sometimes travelling scenes give us a good opportunity to show a little character or banter. Flex the writing muscles. Sing a little--this is why there are so many songs in fantasy novels.

    Most people have already suggested the various options I'd suggest. I'll echo the "cut it if you can spare it" comment.

    There is an art to avoiding this problem in the first place. Ben Kenobi lives a short speeder ride from Luke's place on Tatooine and another short speeder ride, conveniently in the same direction they were already going, from the planet's biggest spaceport. Where Han just happens to be stopping over. And the droids crashland a short junk-trailer ride from Luke's farm. (There's quite a bit of the magic of cutting in those first 20-odd minutes, too.)

    In LOTR, notice how much stuff there is between Point A and Point B. I grant that the Emyn Muil are a bit boring, but there is Gollum's sneaking and struggle, conveniently placed not too long after a lengthy section of Sam mostly complaining about being hungry, I think. There's the introduction of flying Nazgul, the Dead Marshes and the lights, eventually the rock and pool scene. There are a bunch of little events in there, fairly carefully linked together. Certainly Tolkien rarely rushes to get us anywhere, but those scenes are, IMO, also some of his most atmospheric.

    It's the same in Fellowship--wolves near Caradhras, the Brandywine ferry, the Crebain, etc. It's one of the benefits of Middle-earth being such a rich, detailed world. You build the world right and you don't have long stretches of emptiness. Move things closer together. Add backstory to the emptiness (at least in your notes--not necessarily in the narrative). Find something that can happen.

    Or cut to whatever happens next.

  9. #9
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by folclor View Post
    I'd never actually thought about skipping it entirely. No, the journey isn't particularly important.
    Then you don't need to include it. You can summarize bits of it that might be relevant, but otherwise start where the story starts.
    Last edited by BethS; 09-14-2017 at 06:08 PM.

  10. #10
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I didn't find the travel bits of the Fellowship dull. I imagine this is largely a matter of taste--you can wrangle to the moon and back and will still have readers who snooze during your travel sections, no matter how you cut it.

    Lots of modern epic writers seem to use multiple points of view for this reason: to swap back and forth between "action events" (not sure of the right term) and so cut out the slow stuff.
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  11. #11
    Left-Handed Writing Fairy folclor's Avatar
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    Oh, no, Fellowship was fun to read. But Two Towers with Sam and Frodo...

    Thank you all for this wonderful advice! I think it's allowed me to change the focus of the middle from journey to what it needs to be.
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  12. #12
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    I have tackled the traveling problem several times. Usually I just cut forward to whatever bits are important.

    I do have a novel in which a *lot* happens on the journey, but because the characters are traveling to the other side of the world, there are also long sections where they would have been on the road (or in the air) with nothing happening and I skip those.

    So there's a chapter that starts with "There were no attacks over the next three days." Plus a couple lines about how not worrying about dying was a small relief in the midst of long, hot, humid days spent walking from sunrise to sundown. And then it picks up with the next important thing that's happening.

    There are also a few important conversations that happen while traveling during that book. Usually coming right before or after reaching/leaving one of the known destinations. Those scenes are there because plot, but also help establish the mood of the journey at that point because the main focus is on the characters and not the action.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW Stephen Palmer's Avatar
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    Write a descriptive paragraph summarising the journey, but make the paragraph longer than your average - it's a way of nudging the reader into a different headspace, even if only for a few minutes.

  14. #14
    Great Old One CameronJohnston's Avatar
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    I'd go with cutting it if nothing much happens, or just adding in a scene or two of the journey where something happens (ancient ruins, character development etc). Sam and Frodo walking...and walking...bored me to tears in The Two Towers.
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Palmer View Post
    Write a descriptive paragraph summarising the journey, but make the paragraph longer than your average - it's a way of nudging the reader into a different headspace, even if only for a few minutes.
    Naahhh, don't do that. Jump cut -- if the journey isn't important in its own right, just skip it altogether & pick up where things that matter start to happen again.

    If you do feel you need to describe the unimportant journey, keep it as short as possible.

    (Nudging the reader into a different headspace is a useful technique to use when there's a good reason to do it, but shoving people into the space of "Are we there yet?" when there's no real value in not being there already is only going to give readers an excuse to put the book down and read something more interesting.)

  16. #16
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    I wouldn't cut the journey. Which is not to say include every footstep of it. But use it. Use the journey to develop the characters and engage your readers. If your characters are traveling across the world, they likely have never traveled that way before. Throw things in their path. Let them interact with the world.

    For instance, how do they handle the large, cat-like creature with gleaming teeth stalking them? Do they have weapons? Do they know how to use the weapons? What do they do when the cold white stuff they have no word in their language for starts falling from the sky? Do they have the proper gear for the changes in weather? Do they know how to find shelter? How does one character handle the other character's bitching when that character gets a blister on his foot and doesn't want to go any further? Do they have medical knowledge/supplies to deal with a foot blister? What if it gets infected? How do they eat on the journey? If they are in the wilderness for any length of time, they couldn't carry that much food with them. Do they know how to hunt? Fish? Dig roots? Choose which plant to eat? There are a ton of things we can learn about characters by how they handle a journey they are on, and how they interact with their environment.

    You have an opportunity to test your character's mettle and make them into more than they are when the book begins. That's how I'd use a journey--developing the characters and creating a reason for the readers to care.
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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW
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    Now far away the road has gone, and I must follow, if I can!

    I'm going to agree with Ambrosia here, partially. Now, definitely don't show the whole journey. I play D&D with a DM who is great at most aspects of the gameplay but who insists on playing through every day of travel in the wilderness, and it's just...not...interesting. If every day is the same, you can describe all the days with one day.

    However, long journeys are an excellent time for character development. They are also a great time to showcase aspects of your world that might not otherwise see the light. That ruined ancient tower, that river crossing that's becoming a small village, that traveler from a distant land with his weird story about the broken statue...think about wandering around in a video game like Skyrim or Witcher 3. Think about the thrill of discovering little things in the landscape. Now combine that with character development and see the different ways your two characters react to these things. Which landmark will finally set one off to confess something they've never told anyone before? What weird hang-up will your tough worldly character inadvertently reveal? You get to discover all this!

    I'd keep it to one or two scenes, but they can be good ones. Remember Saint-Exupery: "What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well."
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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    I agree that long journeys are great for character development -- IF the journey is significant in the context of the overall story. If the events on the road are relevant to the story, it's definitely a good opportunity to reveal the characters & the setting, evolve their relationship, set up bits of story that'll pay off later on.

    But if the journey is merely a functional set-changing device and nothing happens on the road that is useful or relevant to the story, and building up the narrative of the journey is merely a detour that delays the actual story from continuing -- as I said above, just skip it. There will presumably be other opportunities to develop the characters. Other journeys, even.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW Calder's Avatar
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    Some good advice in the previous posts. I would add that if you want to use the journey to develop character(s) you don't have to describe the entire trip, just a part of it which gives you the opportunity, often through dialogue, to reveal more about your characters. This could be as simple as an overnight stop, where they talk to each other over supper. As others have suggested, use the episode from the journey to enhance world-building. It doesn't always have to be dramatic, or action-packed. In fact, if your narrative contains action either immediately before, or immediately after the journey (or both) such a passage can add a welcome, more reflective and descriptive tone, allowing the reader to catch his/her breath.
    Last edited by Calder; 09-20-2017 at 03:16 AM.
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