Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Writing Without the Baggage Fees! On Travel in Fiction.

Plot Junkie here, back after a long weekend trip visiting Laura Fitzgerald up in NYC. Fun was had in heaps, and yours truly had the opportunity to walk around and hang out in one of her favorite publishing houses. I think I also spent too much money in the garment district to feed my costuming addiction!
Anyhoo, now vacation is over (and now I can take a breather from my day job), it's time to get back to blogging. So what better subject to discuss than the aspect of travel in fiction?

As I've said in previous posts, a story is (or at least should be!) a journey. Whether it is physically, mentally, or even spiritually, there is some sort of travel involved from point A to point B. To make sure I'm not trying to squash too much into one post, let's talk about the physical aspect of travel in fiction today.

So don't panic and remember your towel!

Now the one of the most natural ways of this aspect is travel in the literal sense. As I've mentioned in a previous post, the setting has a whole life of its own. First of all, to keep the location relevant to your story, you need a reason for the story to be there. I don't just mean because the place is cool, because yeah, it's going to be cool. Are they to meet someone? Are they on a pilgrimage? Will there be an altercation with the bad guys there? Why there? You need to question why this particular location is important or you may find your story beginning to fall to the dreaded realm of gimmicks.

You may as well take 'em here! It'll cost less!

Now that you have your destination and purpose in mind, it's time to explore. The whole point of traveling is to escape the mundane and experience a place and culture of which you are unfamiliar with. Think back to trips you've taken previously, which ones were more enjoyable? The ones you were herded around from tourist trap to tourist trap on a set schedule? Or the ones where you perhaps explored a little and discovered little hole in the wall places that exemplified the heart and lifeblood of the location? Think about this while writing. While you may wish to have your characters explore exotic or famous locations, not only is it important for there to be a reason why your characters are there (ex: an important plot point), but you must also keep in mind that the culture or environment may influence that reason and the next course of action. Obviously you should do some research into the local customs, beliefs, and history. I find that traveling blogs and documentaries are great resources for finding out about the hidden gems of a locale where you can see the real character of the place.

Even Twoflower knows to consult a guidebook!

Consider your characters and how they might react to such a place, and also how that place may react to them. Not every personality is going to fit in to a locale. Some personalities make take a shine to the place. How do the characters cope with the different circumstances? All of these considerations are great to have because it'll add a whole new level to your story where your filler material has actual purpose. Heck, you may even discover potential for continuing side plots from the people and situations your character meets while abroad. The possibilities are endless!

Now mind you traveling does not always equal the destination, it also includes the trip along the way. These days this concept may be a little difficult to grasp when plane flights can have you anywhere within only a few hours. However when I think of some of the road trips I've been on over the past few years, the stories of what happened along the way often were as interesting, if not more than what happened at the destination.

Come on, you would stop too if you saw this on the side of the road!

The same works for your fiction. There will always be some person, some place, or some thing en route that will grab your notice or attention. Remember of course to make it relevant to the plot, the character, or even theme of your story. Including tidbits like these will draw out the journey and give the reader the sense they are also traveling with the character, which is always fun if executed properly.

Another aspect of travel in the physical sense is that of time travel.

You called?
Now, swooning over the hawtness of Matt Smith aside, time travel is a bit of a tricky thing to deal with in fiction. Not only do you need to deal with knowing and understanding certain periods of history to make it believable, you also need to think of what the characters do to blend in (or not!) to survive in a world that's not like their own on so many levels. You also need to take into account of what the characters may or may not do upon the knowledge of what has happened, or what will happen in accordance to their own time. Dr. Who often makes up for this problem with the aspect of  "wibbly-wobbly-timey-whimy stuff" in that certain periods in time can be rewritten and it would not interrupt too heavily with the future. Also the show works with the aspect of alternate timelines and universes where inconsistencies all make sense (even if very little) and is still enjoyable. There are still so many aspects to cover on time travel that I may go over in another post, but the key is to remember that it shouldn't be your deus ex machina. Like I said, time travel is tricky and you need to have it well planned out before attempting to bring it in to save a story, otherwise your readers will call you out on it, and you can either expect rolling eyes or uncomfortable questions at convention panels.

Well now that I've finally finished this post days after starting it, I want to thank you, my faithful readers, for continuing to read my ramblings. Also thank you for putting up with my geeky photo choices! Next post I will discuss the aspect of travel within the mind and emotions of a character, so keep an eye out! Hopefully I won't be as swamped at work as I have been of late to get it quicker to you this time.
In the meantime, happy writing!