Moving Along

Thanks to all for the questions. That was terrific! My list is healthy again, but questions are always welcome.

On June 2, 2014, Sunny Smith wrote, Hey, I was wondering if any of you guys have any tips on how to spice up travel scenes so they aren’t boring? I’m writing a book where the main characters are doing a lot of traveling and I’m learned quickly that if you don’t spice it up it can get pretty boring really fast. So that’s what I’ve been doing, but I keep wondering how much spice is too much spice. Where’s the line between making the reader so interested they can’t stop reading and making them frustrated with it because there just too much stuff going on?

Sunny Smith’s question generated a lot of help. This came in from maybeawriter: Well, I know of an older post dealing with road trips called “Enhancing Experience.” (April 20, 2011.) Not sure if that helps you, but it might be worth looking at.

And this from Eliza: They don’t need a flat tire and a troll bridge every two pages to keep the reader interested. There are simpler ways to spice things up. You know those pesky bits of dialogue you have to put somewhere but too much talking slows down the story? Put the talking with the walking.

And from Elisa: I would suggest reading Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith, and it’s sequel, Court Duel. The first has a lot of traveling in it, and the second has some as well, though not as much. Plus, they’re fun books. Especially Crown Duel.

And from carpelibris: Is the journey part of the story, or do you just need to get characters from Point A to Point B? If that’s the case, you can just say something like “Three weeks later, footsore, sunburned, and in dire need of baths, they arrived at the palace.”

Sunny Smith responded to Carpelibris: It is part of the story, it’s actually a quest story like Writer At Heart’s so it’s pretty major. The worst part is in my first chapter where my POV character is on her way to meet up with the other three mains and she’s all by herself in a forest for most of it so there isn’t any way for me to put in any juicy dialogue. So I made it interesting because I’m not one to bore myself and I keep wondering if it’s too much for the first chapter.

These are great ideas! I’m with carpelibris in that we can truncate a journey with judicious telling, and her suggestion for how to do it is charming, in my opinion.

Let’s consider this first chapter as I understand it. Our MC–let’s call her Andressa–has to cross a dangerous forest to reach her allies, the other three MCs, who will help her on the next leg of her journey. Andressa’s ultimate mission is to find the mythical roc, the bird that, according to prophecy, will lay a golden egg, and the egg has the power to unite three warring kingdoms. Let’s say that once Andressa possesses the egg she has to get it to the queen of her home kingdom, because this queen is the only ruler who wants peace.

If nothing is going to happen in the crossing of the forest that will have bearing on the discovery of the roc, one choice is to skip the forest entirely and start the book when Andressa reaches the village where her friends are waiting.

Another possibility is to make the forest crossing have bearing on the quest. It could be some kind of test of Andressa’s ability. There are lots of options. Maybe she’s been told that she mustn’t leave the path through the forest. As she crosses, she keeps being tempted. She can succumb once for a reason we choose. Maybe she gets hungry. An apple tree loaded with low-hanging fruit is growing near the path. She reaches for an apple but keeps her feet planted firmly where they should be. Unfortunately, the apple is just a little farther than she expects. She stumbles and her foot comes down six inches beyond the path.

The reader–and Andressa-–worries that she’s already failed at the quest. To make matters worse, when she gets out of the forest, she doesn’t tell anyone about the failure.

The point is that whatever we write in our forest-crossing scene should have some bearing on the quest. If it doesn’t, our reader may be engaged briefly, but he’s soon likely to feel confused about what’s important. He may have trouble following the thread.

What happens in that first chapter doesn’t have to be quite so focused on the quest as the prophecy idea. We can use the forest adventure to shed light on Andressa’s character and her fitness for the task she’s taken on. Suppose there are bearions, a cross between a bear and a lion, in this wilderness.  Andressa’s first mistake is that she leaves crumbs after her evening meal. She curls up to sleep nearby, and a bearion smells the food and finds her. She hears it coming and has time to get ready with her bow and arrow. She shoots off four arrows, but the beast keeps coming, so she runs to a tree to climb. And the reader discovers how bad her coordination is. She can’t climb the tree. The four arrows do finish off the bearion before it reaches her, but the reader is worried again. Andressa has proven herself a good shot but also careless and clumsy. She is a weak vessel for such an important mission.

I’d say that one adventure is probably enough for the forest part of the story unless we decide that more of the plot should take place there. After the event we’ll probably want to go into Andressa’s thoughts about what happened. If she doesn’t realize that leaving crumbs was a mistake, the reader is going to worry even more about her. If she does realize and beats up on herself too much, he’s going to worry too. If she thinks about the importance of her quest for, say, the people she loves, he’s most likely going to like her. If she pities the dead bearion, he is certainly going to.

We can also use thoughts to eat up the miles and set up the trouble to come. During day one she can think about each of the friends she’s going to meet if this interminable forest ever comes to an end. She can assess their strengths and shortcomings while her opinions also inform the reader about her. During day two she can think about the war that’s raging outside this interminable forest. And during day three she can recall everything she knows about the roc. On day four she can arrive.

A Tale of Two Castles begins with a boat ride to the town of Two Castles, where the body of the story takes place. On the cog (medieval boat) Elodie observes her surroundings. She thinks about where she’s going and what her mission is. A lot of thinking goes on. She also gets seasick and receives bad news from a fellow passenger that threatens her plans. Nothing is earth shattering, but the journey fills seventeen pages. It establishes Elodie’s character and begins to build the world of the story.

If we don’t have dialogue we still have actions and thoughts. And we also have a setting for our MC to interact with, all in the context of her quest. Now let’s start down that yellow brick road!

Here are four prompts:

• Write the scene in which the bearion attacks Andressa. Go on to write her thoughts after she discovers that she isn’t going to die.

• Write Andressa’s thoughts as she crosses the forest, and have her consider the issues I named: the other MC’s, the war, the roc.

• Imagine the roc. Write a scene about it in its natural habitat. Reveal something that will make Andressa’s quest much more difficult.

• Write the whole story of Andressa, her three companions, the roc, and the golden egg.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Thanks for all the help Gail! You know, the funny thing is before you wrote this post, my main character who walks through the forest by herself's name started with an A, and I had a creature that was a cross between a lion, a bear, and a moose! I drew a picture of it too!

  2. I tried, but wasn't satisfied with the result. It's funny, though. Once I started drawing, it was like my fingers remembered how to "feel" the lines. I also learned that I can't sketch worth beans on the computer, only on paper.

  3. Hello, I have a question: What do I do with parents. I really don't like how uninvolved parents are in literature these days. They've all but disappeared! I want the parents in my stories actually BEING there. But them being there means they would cut into the adventures of my kid/teen MCs. How do I work around or through this. Actually, how to I work WITH this? I don't want the parents to be dumb, or dead, or evil, and I don't want the kids to be bratty or sneaky. Kids lying to the parents is just not an option. For one, most parents would see through the lies–therefor making it unrealistic–and secondly, I don't want sneaky, scheming, lying "heroes" in my stories. I don't like glorifying ugliness. Upon occasion I will have one (scheming liar) as an MC, but only to bring a point across, or to create a contrast. So how do I work this? Any suggestions?

    • Elsabet–I know what you mean!! I've discovered it's easier to write parents when they have an actual character. I read the "How To Train Your Dragon" book series a while ago (they are adorable) and I love how the parents are very unique individuals with their own characteristics and personalities that actually add to the story– rather than just being the "mom" or the "dad"–there for reality's sake but not really the story's. Giving them hopes, dreams, fears, etc. like you would for a main or secondary character might help you to incorporate them better into the story and the plot 🙂 parents are people too! Hope this helped!!

    • Well, I really don't like the children-saving-the-parents situation, mostly because it is incredibly cliche and terribly unrealistic. In real life it is almost 99.9% of the time the parents rescuing the kids. And while there is the occasional case of kid-saving-parent, it is rare. And about 98.2% of children's writers have already gone with the .1% chance that the kid would save the parent, so I would like to be accurate, authentic and realistic, and be one of 2.8% of folks that write real-world stuff. Not that I am being ungrateful, I am extremely glad you took time to answer my question, but actually, the real reason I want to write parents like this, is because I am modeling them somewhat off of my own parents. My parents are the very best, they really are. And they would do anything to protect their children. They would never be foolish enough to get caught in a situation where they both needed rescued at the same time, and if, by some completely random circumstance and several simultaneous coincidences of astronomical oddness they did happen to get into such a situation, they would never wish, or even allow us (their kids) to come to harm by trying to rescue them. And that's how most parents are, I think. That's all, no disrespect or anything meant.

    • Oooohh I love the idea of switching between the kids and parents, though!! It would really move the characterization along and add different voices…I may use this, Carpelibris! Good idea!!!

  4. So…does anybody else have issues where their writing doesn't flow–it comes out choppy and episodic? I want my stories' events to lead into each other, like a domino effect where each event effects the next (like real life), which is much more fun to read and makes the story have a flow to it (in my opinion), but I just have THE HARDEST TIME IN THE WORLD with it! How do you all work with that?

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