Monday, June 30, 2014

On Writing Journeys

A writing tip gleaned from C. S. Lewis.

The Time Captives trilogy has been full of writing struggles for me, from character development to worldbuilding. One of these struggles was the writing of journeys. They should be long, who ever heard of a fantasy country it took two hours to cross? But just journeying on and on with nothing really happening gets really boring really quick.

I was trying to figure out how to write journeys accurately. I researched how far someone could walk in a day, and didn't get a definitive answer, but it was enough for me to realize Calhortea must be tiny. It barely took the Hubbards any time at all to reach Calhortz in the first draft. It needed to be a bigger world. Yet, I didn't want to do like Month of the Novel and write "So they walked and they walked and they walked and they walked and they walked and they walked and they walked and they walked..." And I had that "show, don't tell" principle in my head.

A few months ago, I had a bunch of sewing projects. I like listening to audiobooks while I sew, otherwise I'm bored, so I got out my Focus on the Family Radio Theater Narnia audiobooks, and randomly picked The Horse and His Boy. If you're at all familiar with the story, you know that it is full of journeying. I have read and listened to that book millions of times, but that time something hit me. It skips a lot of the traveling!

The book "shows" the beginning of the journey, how tired and sore Shasta is, etc. then sets up their system for traveling (every other night Shasta went into a village and met Bree on the other side). Then it tells that this went on for weeks and weeks. It doesn't get to "showing" again until the night they meet Aravis and Hwin. Cool, isn't it? It just skips the boring parts of the journey where nothing important happened. And it's okay. It's even preferable.

I noticed this in DragonSpell by Donita K. Paul as well. It sets up what it's like to travel through the Bogs, then just says it went on for however long it took for something to actually happen.
It just comes down to knowing when to show and when to tell. There are times for both, and a story wouldn't be complete with the omission of one or the other.

There's always stuff to tell and stuff to skip and skim over. As E. Nesbit wrote in The Story of the Treasure Seekers, "The best part of books is when things are happening....This is why I shall not tell you in this story about all the days when nothing happened....So I shall just tell you the nice interesting parts--and in between you will understand that we had our meals and got up and went to bed, and dull things like that. It would be sickening to write all that down, though of course it happens."

So now I don't worry about just saying they traveled for so long. Something doesn't have to happen every minute, and it's okay to skim over the weeks of a journey where nothing really happens.


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  2. It's so true! You've got to leave out some details, otherwise it will start to be like a real-time video of people walking down a street rather than a novel. :)

    Btw, I don't know if you've already done this, but I tagged you in the Writing Process Blog Tour on my blog post

    The idea is to answer the four questions about your writing schedule and current projects, etc. You don't have to do it, of course, but I just thought you might like to know you'd been tagged!

    1. That's a good example! Real time can be used at times, like in the show 24 (not that I watch it, or care to, but my parents do), but rarely is it the best option. The trick is in knowing what to skip. :)


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