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!