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!


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.”

Website | + posts

A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here:
Follow me on Facebook:


  1. Interesting post, Cheryl. And a wonderful excerpt! There’s so much to consider with time travel. I bet it’s fun to write!

    The quote from your English professor reminded me of what my mom said about the difference between Bonanza and Gunsmoke. With Gunsmoke, strangers come to town. With Bonanza, the Cartwrights go poking their noses in other people’s business 🙂 Not all the time, but sort of.

  2. Interesting post. I love any type of travel. In a story, it gives an author more options and directions, I love it. to go in. A journey often turns into more than just a change in location. Danger can be introduced. A relationship grows and changes. People may end the journey much different from when they started. In addition, the locale itself, either where they are traveling through or the destination, can play a role in the story. As for time travel, I love it. It allows the author to throw some of the rules out and construct things the way they would like.
    Thanks for the excerpt. Sounds good.

  3. Great post, Cheryl. I never conciously thought of the importance of travel in a story; I guess my characters have just always traveled. Sometimes forced to move from one place to another due to circumstances, or in my current wip the heroine is forced to travel by being kidnapped. But really a story is more exciting when there’s a scene change or two; even just plunging a city slicker onto a working ranch.

    Loved the excerpt! And way to take travel to a whole new level. :o)

  4. What an intriguing excerpt, Cheryl. I love time travel. The one I wrote, Christmas Moon, was so much fun.
    For me, the ultimate travel story is LONESOME DOVE. Here the whole cast of characters is on a journey, both physical and emotional. The journey changes all of them.
    Thanks for a very thoughtful post.

  5. Hi Vicki,
    Writing that time travel was quite a challenge. LOL I really enjoyed it once I got Jenni back in time, but the transition wasn’t easy to do. Anyhow, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment, because I have the sequel in mind and what I want to do with it–this time, Rafe’s brother will be going forward in time to present day. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. That is so funny about what your mom said. It’s so TRUE! The Cartwrights WERE always poking their noses into someone else’s business, but always for a good reason, of course. LOL I can just see the writers sitting around going, “What if blah blah happens. Then of course, Little Joe would have no choice but to …” LOLLOL Must have been the same conversation time after time but with different characters in the Cartwright family.

  6. Hi Patricia,
    You know, I think that is one of the reasons I love Eric Flint–he writes alternative historical fiction (that’s a mouthful!) and is from West Virginia (where my husband is from). Some of his books are time travel but in others the history is changed to force a different outcome from what actually happened. In his book 1812:The Rivers of War, several of the American Indian tribes band together to fight with the Americans during the War of 1812–a very interesting concept–and he throws in some well known figures like Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, etc. in odd contexts. I got the sequel to that book, 1824: The Arkansas War but haven’t read it yet. He has written a ton of short stories and novels–I’ll probably never have time to read them all. LOL But like you say, the traveling gives us a chance to experience new things with the characters and see the plot be able to develop more fully in ways it couldn’t without that travel happening. Thanks for your comment–I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpt!

  7. Great post Cheryl.. Time travel is not my fav genre, but some books just grab you and this one sure does… I love the exerpt… Oh how I wish a handsome stranger, from the present or the past would drift into my life…LOL..sigh

  8. Hi Kirsten,
    Oh, I love kidnap stories! LOL My latest contemporary novel from The Wild Rose Press, SWEET DANGER, was a hostage story. The thing about those kinds of stories is that things can happen much faster than normal because of the situation. I think when people are forced into a situation like that and have to rely on each other for survival, it heightens everything–senses, emotions, reactions, you name it. I have another wip where rogue IRA terrorists take over a posh Dallas hotel where Britain’s PM is staying overnight. They wipe out everyone in the hotel except for the hero, who makes it up to the roof after being wounded (he’s an undercover cop) and the heroine who had already been up on the roof looking at the Dallas lights. But there is someone else up on the roof with them…LOLLOL I really love stuff like that. Thanks for commenting, Kirsten–I can’t wait to read this wip of yours! Get crackin’, girl! LOL

  9. Hi Elizabeth!
    I love time travel too, but you just have to be so careful to not make it “hokey”–LOL I think that was what I loved so much about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books. Although, I must say, I loved the first one the most. The others were good, and she was such a master at characterization! But the time travel element and how it all figured in was just great, I thought. Now that I have a Kindle, I just need some time to READ.LOL I’m going to order Christmas Moon. I love Christmas stories even when it’s not Christmas! I’m so glad you enjoyed the excerpt and post.

  10. Hi Kathleen!
    I like time travel but the one thing that really bugs me is when a book has too many references back to the present day. Like, “If we were in MY time, I wouldn’t have to cook at all. We could just go to Golden Corral and have a buffet.” or “I wouldn’t have to learn to ride a horse if we were in my time. I would be driving my new 2011 Camaro.” LOLLOL I like the character that has gone back in time to miss the comforts of the contemporary time they came from, but also to be able to appreciate the elements of the time they’ve traveled back to. I think anyone would miss the conveniences we have, but I like to see it tempered with an appreciation of the time they’ve gone back to. Otherwise, the hero or heroine who lives in the “backward” time always has to feel inadequate or apologetic.

    Thanks, Kathleen. Glad you came by and commented today!

  11. Oh, Wow! The IRA story sounds fantastic!!! Love the whole mystery person hidden in the shadows.

    Just a few scenes and a bullet to go and I’ll be done with my wip!

  12. You know, Cheryl that, “A stranger comes to town. A character leaves town.” concept is really simplistic and yet it’s so true. The ‘new’ is what sets the story in motion.
    When do you ever read a book where the hero looks at the girl next door and suddenly realizes she’s all grown up and beautiful and he now loves her.
    Sometimes that happens, but usually someone has gone away and then come home to find the girl next door all grown up and ….

    The idea of it makes me smile because, as I think of my books, I realize it always starts with someone new coming to town. Or a character leaving for somewhere else.

    My favorite of my TRAVEL stories is a cattle drive story. It is the total framework for the novel. In The Husband Tree, the heroine hires the hero to help her drive her cattle to market.

  13. Cheryl, can’t wait to read Time Plains Drifter. Will it be available on Kindle? If not, where can we order it?

    Elizabeth, LOVED The Christmas Moon!! Hope you write more TT!

    As you can see, I LOVE TT books! LOL

  14. Love the excerpt Cheryl. And it’s been a long time since I read a time travel story but I’ve always enjoyed them. I’ll definitely have to look for this one.

  15. Great post, Cheryl. As Mary says, I am really into the “Stranger comes to town. Character leaves town.” Stories have to start somewhere, and that’s just a natural prompt to me. I do like some time travel. I loved Jude Devereaux’s Knight in Shining Armor. The Gabaldon’s confused me a little though. LOL. oxoxox

  16. Great post, Cheryl. I loved the excerpt. I like to read time travel stories, but I haven’t read one for a few years now. When I was reading them before they all seem to be the same to me and I lost interest in reading them. This story of yours, I am planning on getting.

  17. Kirsten,
    I know you are thrilled to be that close to the end of your WIP! I am really excited about the IRA one I was telling you about, though I know it will need some rewrites because it’s not a “traditional” romance since there are more than the standard 2 or 3 POVs. This one, I had started many years ago, and it just evolved into a longer story than I had intended, and I had to give the “other guy” a POV–he’s a veteran with a head injury who inhabits the roof of the building–and for a large part of the book, the H/h aren’t sure if he’s going to help them or…not. LOL

  18. Hi Mary,
    YES! So many of my books start with that same premise, and thinking of so many of the books I love out there, a lot of them begin with a stranger coming to town or the main character leaving and being forced to go somewhere due to circumstances. So true, too, about the “girl next door” being all grown up with the hero takes a second look, or comes home. LOL Thanks so much for your comments.

  19. Trish,
    Yes, it will be available on Kindle. I will be sure to keep you posted as to when the release date is as time gets closer for it. I’m really excited about this one–I had released it before with another company that turned out to be unscrupulous and I got my rights back, so this is like it’s being “born again.” LOL

  20. Winnie,
    Thank you so much. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt.I’ll keep everyone posted on when it’ll be “out there”–still working on the fine tuning.

  21. Tanya,
    I loved A Knight In Shining Armor, too. That was a book that so many people really enjoyed and will mention when time travel comes up. Yes, Gabaldon’s books were confusing at times, I agree. But I really really did love that first one. I remember when I read it just being in awe that anyone could do such a wonderful job with characters that seemed to be so real.

  22. Becky,
    I know just what you mean about losing interest there for awhile–it did seem that so many of them were just the same. I’m glad to find a good publisher for Time Plains Drifter, because there for a while, publisher, agents, and editors were feeling the same way you were and no one was interested. LOL Thanks for coming by–I’ll give a shout out when the book becomes available.

  23. HI Cheryl!

    I so love the idea of time travel, also. When I was in the hayday of my writing, time travel was not something that my publisher wished to even read. But for me, I’ve always loved it!

  24. Hi Kay,
    I think lots of times “new” things are discouraged rather than embraced until someone else has success with it–then it becomes something HUGE overnight that all the publishers want to encourage their authors to write –even if it’s not normally what they would write. I had an agent once who wrote to me and asked, “Do you think you could write an Amish romance?” Uh… in a word, no. LOLLOL I have always loved the possibilities of time travel–one of the secondary characters in Time Plains Drifter is a preacher who faces the conundrum of balancing his belief with the possibility of the unknown and time travel. I loved creating Reverend Bolton, with all his wondering and doubt, because the very real evidence of time travel solidifies his belief in ways he hadn’t thought about. Thanks so much for commenting, Kay, I know you are very busy. I tried to post a comment to your post yesterday and it would never “take”, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading that post you wrote. That was so interesting.

  25. Cheryl,

    What a tease! :o) I hope you can get the IRA story worked up because it just sounds better the more you share. Reading your description I was thinking it’d be a twist to have the undercover cop an Irish immigrant and his brother is one of the terrorists. Sorry, the mind wanders. :o)

    Anyway, until it’s published I’ll be content reading your other books. I’m loving SWEET DANGER.

  26. OH GOOD, Kirsten! I’m so glad you are liking SD! I like how your mind works! LOL BROTHERS are always a favorite–but he has a brother that figures hugely in the story, too, who actually almost stole the show. I had to be careful about that. LOL

Comments are closed.