7 Ways to Write the Journey
By Yvone Williams
When writing contemporary fiction, you’ll often find this one “rule” stifling your story: Do not write traveling scenes– readers don’t want to be bogged down by your character’s journey. This is a lie, and it’s the same lie your parents told you when you asked them where babies came from.
Showing the journey your characters make is a lot like having sex: Yes, your story could get AIDs, but if you play it smart, it can be a wonderful experience for all involved. Travel scenes do have the potential to kill your story, but only if there’s no conflict. Keep the reader engaged by using these 7 tools in your travel scenes:
1. Inner thoughts about the present.
Let us see who your character is and why they’re the protagonist instead of That Guy Bob. What are their opinions on their surroundings, and how do these surroundings affect your character differently? This is a great time to hint at impending conflicts and show us what your protagonist wants:
Maybe your story’s external conflict is survival in a dystopian world. As they travel past a field of crops, do they brood about their distaste for a particular crop because it’s a reminder of the society’s nefarious intentions, yet the townfolk mindlessly devour it?
Maybe your protagonist’s inner conflict is overcoming the death of their father. As they travel through the forest, do they curse the sight of a boulder, which most people wouldn’t think twice about, because it’s where their deceased father sharpened his blade every day?
2. Inner thoughts about the recent past.
This works best if your journey occurs after a high tension scene. In those scenes, you avoid breaking up the flow of action and your characters are making decisions on impulse. The journey they make after these moments are great for filling in the “why”s and showing the reader the emotional impact of that scene.
Along the journey, have your character question why they reacted the way they did and let them make judgments about it. How do they feel about the choice they made? Was their choice misguided, and if so, was it by something tangible or emotional? Does your protagonist know and accept what their actions say about them, or are they in denial?
3. Dialogue and character interaction
Show us the diversity of your characters by allowing them to interact along the journey. Each character will have lived a different life, and their experiences have shaped the way they view the world.
Introduce something they can react to– some element or event along the journey that will show how their perceptions and ways of problem-solving differ or clash. (Earn bonus points by creating an event that serves as a subplot.)
If the reveal of their opposing views doesn’t immediately create conflict between them, don’t worry– it’ll pay off later in the story when you reveal whether those opinions influenced the characters in a way that was beneficial or detrimental. This is why tertiary characters exist; their job is to influence your protagonist.
4. Pathetic fallacy
Pathetic fallacy is a type of personification that mirrors the mood of your character. Because this literary device is more commonly found in poetry than genre fiction, you want to be careful not to use it in a way that will induce laughter or eye-rolling.
Use it sparingly and avoid trying too hard. If you want to play it safe, save it for the Third Person POV; you don’t want your First Person POV character to seem overly dramatic by having them say “the sky wept…” if that’s not the way they regularly describe the world.
This device works wonders on a Third Person POV: Some readers prefer Third Person because First Person is too intimate. With that said, a common complaint about Third Person is that it’s too detached.
Pathetic fallacy is a great way to combat the distance between the reader and your characters, and maintain that balance between detachment and intimacy. By providing an inanimate object to relay the emotions of your character, you make it easier, for those who like detachment, to connect with the character on an emotional level.
5. Signpost Foreshadowing
A signpost, or plant, is a cue to the reader that something big is going to happen. You can foreshadow through dialogue, action, or thoughts, allowing a character to show potential for their future deed (or misdeed.) Foreshadowing along the journey allows you to keep the tension high– even if there’s no obvious conflict present in the scene.
K.M. Weiland, author of Dreamlander, can show you the right way to foreshadow.
6. Descriptive Foreshadowing
Unlike foreshadowing with signposts, you don’t have to hint that there will be a problem– you can tell the reader exactly what the problem is and the major obstacle that stands between success and failure. The reason you get to say all of that is because it’s wrapped up in symbolism and disguised as descriptive narrative.
Foreshadowing through description makes your narrative work overtime. Not only are you stimulating the 5 senses to transport the reader to your story world, showing off those world-building/research skills, and setting the mood, you give your story some serious replay value (for the non-gamers out there, that means people will read your book more than once.)
Create a symbol such as a bird, a handbag– whatever makes sense for your story problem– and have it reoccur. Tell the reader what they can expect to happen by the way you choose to describe that object and the way it interacts with its surroundings.
7. Dramatic irony
This works best if used just before your character makes a journey. Revealing a crucial piece of information to your audience, but withholding it from your character, allows you to maintain a sense of tension along the trip. Show us the trap that lies at the end of the road. Tell us your characters’ secrets or motivations– the ones they’re not telling the others.
Using dramatic irony just before the journey will have the reader dying to flip the page, but unable to do so any faster than they can read, as they wonder when and how the information will come to light. Just make sure the information serves its purpose by the end of the story, or you’ll find your book in the local yard sale bin.
Now that you have 7 tools in your kit, your job is to write the journey– make it engaging, keep the tension high, and maintain that suspense! Just remember that the same rules apply to your traveling scene as any other: length should be proportionate to importance. So have fun with it and consider this list your 98% effective condom.
Yvone is a writer of Fantasy and Mainstream fiction. She is also a blogger, beta reader, and a participant of NaNoWrimo. For more writing advice, check out her blog at FetchingFigment.