Writing Wednesdays: Using Travelling to Create Story Conflict
Travelling is intense, both in stories and real life. People realize they’ve forgotten their wallet an hour along the road. Plane luggage is over the weight limit, so you have to decide what you really need on your holiday. There might not be a toilet for several kilometers; a true tragedy.
Conflict is necessary to move a story forward, and hook the reader. Often in books authors skip over the travelling completely, or drag it out into a boring chapter where nothing happens except birds chirp and the love interests make doe-eyes at each other. Sound familiar?
So how can we use travelling to our advantage?
There are four elements that can bring your travelling scenes to another level.
1) People: Some people love travelling; some people hate it. When several people are stuck together for days, weeks, or months, there are sure to be things they’ll disagree about. They’ll get sick of each other. Small disagreements can range from who takes watch, to which song to play in the car. To create more conflict, use a small disagreement and blow it up into a giant argument that could completely stall their travels. What if one of the characters suddenly doubts the journey? What if they are careless with how they pack another’s prize possession?
For example, think of the last car trip you were in. You were probably crammed in the back seat with several siblings. Maybe it was hot. One of you was probably in a bad mood. At first you tolerated each other, but then someone made a snarky comment, and boom, off you went squabbling. Your parents yelled at you to be quiet, which made you even more angry at each other because now you’re in trouble.
|One fight could shatter everything|
(Image not mine)
2) Mode of Transport: The two most popular modes of transport are cars in contemporary, and horses in fantasy. Our stories should reflect real life, and we all know that nothing ever goes perfect on trips. Cars break down, the tires deflate, or you run out of petrol (gas). Horses get tired, thirsty, and hungry, and so your characters will need to stop to care for them. Or if they are travelling by plane, what if one of the engines burn, or the flight is delayed? On steam-powered trains, what if they run out of coal? What if Titanic III runs into a hidden glacier?
If your characters are on a tight schedule, harming their mode of transport will make every minute count.
3) Setting and Weather: Where your characters are travelling through plays a big part. Are they in a desert? A dark forest? A busy city? Let’s go with the dark forest example. If the trees are pressed close together, your character will not have an easy time seeing. What if they trip on roots and break a leg? Darkness tends to make people jumpy, so any noise will make them paranoid. Dark forests can also be very cold at night, so how do they deal with it? Will the characters who hate each other have to lie next to each other for body warmth?
Never underestimate the power of a setting. Your characters can make the grandest plans to save the world, but how will they do it when a thunderstorm is unleashed and they can’t see through the rain?
|Danger could be lurking beyond that mist|
4) Resources: Unless the characters are very well off, travelling drains a budget significantly. Food, new clothes, transport, a room for a night - all need to be paid for. If your characters are on the road for months, how are they going to pay for all this? It’s unrealistic for a poor farming boy to go off with no cash, and pass through several cities and always have a nice inn room and a bowl of stew. Unless he’s some mastermind thief or con-man.
But if your character is in, say, a desert, resources turn from a matter of money to a matter of life and death. Do they have enough water? Light enough clothing for the day, but warm blankets for the night? How far is it before they can replenish their resources?
Stripping the basic needs from your character on a journey can raise the stakes even higher.
|Your character might have to dip into their savings for that new game|
Use all four elements to create enough conflict to make every hour of the journey a section the reader can’t pull themselves away from. And who knows, maybe you can even make not having a bathroom for eight miles the turning point in your character’s arc.
Do you skip over travelling, or do you use it to your advantage? What is your favourite way to
mess up cause conflict in a journey? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear your thoughts!