When Your Characters Travel, It’s All About Pacing
- HomeWhen Your Characters Travel, It’s All About Pacing
As writers, we all have something we loathe about writing. For some, writing traveling scenes into their novel or short story can be a drag. For me, these scenes comes easy. So, I’m here to pass on a little bit of wisdom to those who aren’t so lucky.
If the moment feels right and I think travel would fit the scene, I go for it. The words flow for me and I let them, but there is more to it than that—you have to know when and how much information to give. Plus, there’s deciding how to involve your characters and bring them back to their reality, so to speak. It’s all about pacing and timing.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Here’s a little snippet from Dangerous Liaisons to get our “journey” underway:
On the drive to Staunton, Sierra’s cell phone rang. She saw the caller ID and looked at Colton who was driving.
“Max calling to check in on us already?”
Colton got a sheepish look on his face.
“You didn’t tell him you were coming here did you?” Sierra tsked. She answered the phone.
“Hey, boss, we can explain ….”
“Explain?” Max asked in bewilderment. “Sierra, I need you to lay low at your aunt’s. We might have put you in the thick of a real mess.”
Sierra sat up straighter at the sound of anxiety in Max’s voice. “I’m fine.”
“No, you are far from fine,” Max snapped. “We apparently sent you right into the hotbed of El Jefe’s East Coast operations. Marcus has a mole who just found out that there is some serious moving and shaking going on in your hometown.”
“So, vacation is over?”
“No, Sierra, vacation is getting moved. You’re going to stay with Colton.”
Sierra laughed awkwardly. “Well, about that …. He’s here. Let me put him on speaker phone.”
“Let’s Get On the Road Again!”
So, we are starting at the beginning. When your story “hits the road” it doesn’t have to be your main character doing the traveling. Minor characters may come in and out of your protagonist’s life. No matter who is moving, there has to be a reason for them to travel that adds intrigue to your plot. There could be a mystery to solve, an emergency to respond to, or some other compelling reason to call them away. It really depends on the type of genre you’re writing.
Next, you want to pick a destination. Maybe you already have a place in mind. Perhaps it’s a place you’ve visited, lived, or vacationed. But if you’ve never visited, make sure you do research on the area. And of course, if you are writing something set outside of the real world, you have a lot more latitude with your locale. You do not have to go into great detail about the setting, especially if your character is only there for a short stay, only enough to get the feel of the place. This is where you work your magic with your words and write.
However, you want to be careful and not bore your readers with tourism rituals, making them feel like they are on a tour guide trip. Only give them a tease, a little taste, that’s all they need and want. You do not want to bog your characters down on the trip. Have them get the deed accomplished in a timely manner and bring them back home.
From Dangerous Liaisons
To save time, Colton got a list of things from Cooper of what he wanted from his place. Colton would get Cooper’s things and then Sunday morning they would drive early to Alexandria to pick up Cooper and then head straight on through to get on their flight. It would be an exhausting day with all the driving back and forth, but there was no other choice.
They arrived in Roanoke, Virginia as scheduled. Cooper was apprehensive about being in a strange place.
Even Short Trips Can Lead to Big Scenes
If you have multiple characters in your novel and more travels occur, as I did in Dangerous Liaisons, I made sure to space out my travel scenes. This is where pacing is important. You need to know when your travel scenes need to be short and to the point and when they can be explained in more details. For the minor characters, I tend to do shorter travel scenes and the major characters get the more intense, longer traveling scenes.
From Dangerous Liaisons
An hour later, Colton and Cooper made their way around Vernon Parish, going nowhere in particular. It reminded Colton of when he and Cooper were teenagers and they would drive up and down the drag on a Saturday night looking for girls or something to do—only this was daytime and they were not looking for girls.“So how long are you planning on staying with Mom and Dad?” Cooper asked, as he glanced over towards his brother.
“Um, maybe a few more days, then I thought I’d go back home,” Colton said as he adjusted his sunglasses.
“So I guess you’re not going to quit your job?” Cooper asked, as he stopped for a red light.
“Hell no. Look, I love my job. Mom and Dad, and you, need to accept what I do for a living,” Colton said as he looked over and saw two young women with short shorts on and practically nonexistent tops. He wondered if they were hookers, reminded himself he wasn’t on the job, then the sound of Cooper’s voice brought him back to reality.
“Yeah, well, it’s hard on them. They can’t tell their friends what you do for a living so they lie, and that makes them uncomfortable,” Cooper said with a little bit of anger in is voice.
“Yeah, well, it’s for their safety as well as mine,” Colton said.
Here they are, just driving around in their car, talking. It could have been written as “They took a long drive around town to cool off and got caught up on events.” Instead, it is written out as a full scene taking advantage of the quiet. It gives real insight into two men that are normally very close-mouthed, especially about their feelings. And as a bonus, this scene gains importance later on. Readers need to understand the character of the brothers and their parents. This simple car trip was an easy way to show it.
Then, I had my main characters along with two minor characters take a trip to Louisiana. One of the main character’s parents lived there as did his brother. With that, I extended my scene making it longer, yet brief—if that makes sense. The characters all had to get back to work.
Another place visited in Dangerous Liaisons was Baltimore, Maryland. I chose that place because I like Maryland and always have. But no matter the love, I focused making those transition scenes brief to keep the pacing tight. If you can’t find your focus, your readers will become bored. After all, they didn’t buy a travel book, they bought a book to read and enjoy.
“Don’t Be Discouraged – Write Those Travel Scenes!”
I recently finished the sequel to Dangerous Liaisons and had a travel scene in the novel. A surprise to me and my characters! I had to do a little research on the place, but it all worked out wonderfully. My advice to you is not to be discouraged when you attempt to write those ‘dreaded’ travel scenes if you are are one of those who dislike them.
I look forward to travel in my next novel and where it takes me and my characters!
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