Jul 07 2009
Many novels, particularly fantasies, spend a lot of time on traveling scenes. Here are some suggestions to keep the journeys smooth and interesting.
1. Don’t give the journey more length than the goal merits. If the characters take a 20-page trip through the wilderness to find something minor, readers will probably feel annoyed. In contrast, a journey that is absolutely critical to the plot might span hundreds of pages. For example, if the book is about settlers on the Oregon Trail, then almost all of the book is probably going to be in transit.
2. Make the journey urgent. For example, the characters are running out of time and/or they are in danger. Urgent journeys are usually more interesting. Urgent journeys also go farther to develop how impressive the characters are. Anyone can get around the world, but doing it in 80 days in 1872 is pretty remarkable.
3. Use the trek as an opportunity for character development. A strong journey usually requires chemistry between the characters. Chemistry is hard to pin down, but it generally entails a bit of conflict and style.
4. Show us some new scenery. In a fantasy, this is a great opportunity to use your imagination. Why should travelers should stay away from the Mangled Forest?
5. Stay away from redundancy. For example, if the characters defend themselves from bears one page, it would be pretty boring if they had to fight off wolves or wild zebras or rabid gnomes or whatever a few pages later. Also, don’t spend too much time building the landscapes. Show us just enough to build a mood.
6. A journey depends on effective use of low-intensity pacing. Unlike, say, a car chase, a journey is going to consist of scenes that are mostly unintense. There may be brief intervals of intense action (probably combat), but those will get redundant fairly quickly. In general, suspense and/or spookiness usually go farther than a battle royale rumble through the jungle.
7. If at all possible, just cut out the description of the journey by having the narrator tell us that the characters made it. If you can do that without eviscerating the plot, chances are that the journey isn’t important enough to draw out. Readers will really thank you for glossing over minor, boring details. (For example, see our review of Empire of Ivory).