Writing a short story or a novel is a “journey” from beginning to end in many ways.
Hopefully, our main characters will learn something about themselves and grow emotionally and in their personal values of not only each other, but the world around them. They must become more aware of their place in the world as individuals to be able to give of themselves to another person, the hero to the heroine, and visa versa, or the story stagnates.
The main conflict of the story brings this about in a myriad of ways, through smaller, more personal conflicts and through the main thrust of the “big picture” dilemma. I always like to think of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell as a prime example of this, because the States’ War was the catalyst for everything that followed, but it also remained the backdrop throughout the book. This generated all of the personal losses and gains that Scarlett and Rhett made individually, so if the War hadn’t been the backdrop, the main original conflict, their personal stories would have taken very different routes and their love story quite possibly would have never happened.
No matter what kind of story we are trying to weave, we have to have movement throughout—not just of the characters’ growth, but of the setting and circumstances that surround them. Sometimes, that “ain’t” easy!
Have you ever thought about how important it is to have travel in your writing? No, it doesn’t have to be lengthy travel, although that’s a great possibility, too. Even a short trip allows things to happen physically to the characters, as well as providing some avenue for emotional growth and development among them.
One of my favorite examples of the importance of travel is the short story by Ernest Haycox, “Stage to Lordsburg.” You might know it better as the John Ford movie adaptation, “Stagecoach,” starring a very handsome young newbie…John Wayne. A varied group of people are traveling on a stagecoach that is attacked by Indians, including John Wayne, (a seriously good-looking young outlaw by the name of Johnny Ringo) who is being transported to prison. The dire circumstances these passengers find themselves in make a huge difference in the way they treat each other—including their hesitant acceptance of a fallen woman and the outlaw.
If the characters of the story are going somewhere, things are bound to happen—even if they’re just going to the store, as in the short story “The Mist,” by Stephen King. Briefly, a man goes to the grocery store and is trapped inside with many other people by a malevolent fog that surrounds the store and tries to come inside. Eventually, he makes the decision to leave rather than wait for it to get inside and kill them all. He thinks he can make it to the pickup just outside in the parking lot. A woman that he really doesn’t know says she will go with him. By making this conscious decision, not only are they leaving behind their own families (he has a wife and son) that they know they’ll never see again, but if they make it to the vehicle and survive, they will be starting a new chapter of their lives together. It’s a great concept in my opinion—virtual strangers, being forced to make this kind of life-or-death decision in the blink of an eye, leaving everything they know behind, when all they had wanted to do was pick up a few groceries.
In all of my stories, there is some kind of travel involved. In Fire Eyes, although Jessica doesn’t travel during the story, she has had to travel to get to the original setting where it all takes place. And Kaed is brought to her, then travels away from her when he is well enough. Will he come back? That’s a huge conflict for them. He might be killed, where he’s going, but it’s his duty. He can’t turn away from that. After what has happened to him in his past, he has a lot of mixed feelings about settling down and trying again with a family, and with love.
In a long ago English class, one of my professors once stated, “There are only two things that happen in a story, basically. 1. A stranger comes to town. Or, 2. A character leaves town.” Pretty simplistic, and I think what she was trying to tell us was that travel is a great way to get the conflict and plot of a story moving in the right direction. I always think of “Shane” when I think of “a stranger coming to town” because that is just such a super example of how the entire story is resolved by a conflicted character, that no one ever really gets to know. Yet, although he may have a checkered past, he steps in and makes things right for the Staretts, and the rest of the community.
In my upcoming novel, Time Plains Drifter, a totally different kind of travel is involved—time travel. The hero, Rafe, is thrown forward sixteen years from the date he died (yes, he’s a very reluctant angel) and the heroine, Jenni, is flung backward one hundred fifteen years by a comet that has rearranged the bands of time on earth. They come together in 1895 in the middle of Indian Territory. But the time travel is just a means to bring them together for the real conflict, and that’s the case with most of stories. Whether as readers or writers, we don’t want to look at the scenery/history for the most part; we want to see the conflict, and the travel is just a way to get that to happen.
For all the writers out there, how do you use travel in your writing? And for the readers, what kinds of travel passages bore you, or make the story come alive?
Here’s a short excerpt from Time Plains Drifter, which will be re-released at the beginning of June. Rafe and Jenni have just met, and there’s a definite attraction! Hope you enjoy!
FROM TIME PLAINS DRIFTER
For the first time, Rafe began to wonder what—and who—she might have left back there in her own time. Two thousand-ten. A mother and father? What about siblings? Was she as close to someone as he and Cris had been? Was she…married? Did she leave children of her own?
She was a school teacher, and he took comfort in that thought. In his own time, school teachers were usually women who were not yet married.
Suddenly, the question burned in his mind. Was she married? Did she have someone waiting for her? Hell, what difference does it make? He sighed. You’re dead, Rafe. Remember? Dead. All a mistake. Beck’s sure sorry, but—
If he was dead, why did his leg ache? He felt the pinch of the cramped nerve endings in his left calf just as he had always suffered from when he held this position too long. Was it real? Or did he just anticipate that pain, where it had always been when he was alive? He hadn’t imagined the instant response of his body earlier, holding Jenni Dalton in his arms. That had been real enough.
He stood up slowly with a grimace, and his fingers went to the small of his back automatically for an instant before he bent to massage his leg, then walk a few steps to ease the strain of the muscles. The twinges faded, but Rafe knew he hadn’t imagined either of them.
If I’m dead, how can I hurt? Was this part of what Beck had tried to explain to him earlier, about giving in to the “human” side of himself? Those “bodily urges?” Beck had seemed horrified that Rafe even entertained the thought of wanting to live again—in a normal, human state.
But he did, God help him. He did. And five minutes with Miss Jenni Dalton was all it had taken to reaffirm that conviction to the fullest measure.
There was something about her; something strong, yet, so vulnerable. Her eyes captivated him, her lips seductively beckoned to be kissed—but what if she knew she was kissing a ghost? A dead man?
His glance strayed to Jenni once more as she stood up, and he controlled the urge to go after young Kody Everett and choke the life from his body for his deceit.
Jenni came toward Rafe stiffly, her back held ramrod straight. Without conscious thought, he opened his arms to her, and she kept right on walking, into his embrace, until he closed the gates of safety across her back and held her to him, protected inside his fortress.
She didn’t cry, and Rafe knew it was because she was too exhausted. They stood that way for a long moment, breathing the night air. He wanted to give her what she needed—shelter, safety, and…togetherness. She wasn’t alone any more, and he wanted her to know it.
He felt her take a shuddering breath of bone-deep weariness. Who was waiting for her in her own time, to comfort her like this when she returned?
“Hmm?” Her voice was a contented purr.
He smiled. “Where you come from, are you, uh—married, or—”
“Huh-uh. No husband. No kids. Nobody at all.”
“No—betrothed?” He searched for a word they might still use a hundred and ten years from now, and by the way she smiled against his shirt, he knew he had sounded old-fashioned to her. “Okay, what’s your word for it?”
“Boyfriend. Fiance. Lover—”
She drew back at his indignation, looking him in the face. “It’s—It’s just a word,” she stammered. “It really doesn’t mean—”
“Don’t say that one,” Rafe growled. He shook his head to clear it. “What I mean is—you wouldn’t want to say that around anyone. They’d take you for a—loose woman.”
She looked up earnestly into his smoldering gaze, liquefying his bones with her piercing green eyes, her lips full and sensual, the tangle of copper hair blowing in the breeze. “Would you think I was ‘loose’ if I asked you to—to just lie down beside me? It’s not that I’m afraid,” she hastened to add. “I just feel—kind of shaken up.”