Image Credits: Some images directly from Pixabay. Other images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos and one photo from Allison Symes.
This post is timely because by the time this goes out I will be up in Scotland again for the Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference. I’m running a flash fiction workshop there and have judged one of their competitions (the Margaret McConnell Woman’s Short Story).
I hope to interrupt my In Fiction series to report back on how things went soon. And yes I loved the train journey (Waterloo, King’s Cross, Edinburgh, Croy) – the scenery on much of the route is amazing. It’s the second time I’ve been up to Scotland in the last few months as I was at the Brechin and Angus Book Festival back in November.
Good Reasons for Journeys
In fiction it is a rare event for characters to have the time to take a break and admire the scenery in which they’re passing. Journeys in fiction are a means to an end, literally. Frodo Baggins just doesn’t get to Mordor and think job done! But without the journey, his mission cannot be completed.
Whether the story is a fantasy one or in another genre, the journey characters take must be for a good reason. It doesn’t necessarily have to be to ensure evil is defeated. Little Red Riding Hood, after all, had one goal in mind for her journey – to get that basket of goodies to Granny. The fact she had other problems to deal with was another matter! Journeys in themselves don’t have to be the main event (though they often are).
Journeys are something we understand and relate to – the ones we take for business, the ones we would rather avoid, and the ones we love doing – so to have journeys in stories makes sense for that reason too. We can understand why the character is setting off, sympathise with their reluctance to go, understand why the sooner they do it, the sooner they get it over with etc.
And we have to read and keep reading to find out whether the character is successful – did the journey achieve what it was meant to do? Journeys then can act as a useful framework for a story.
Journeys can be internal as we watch a character start out in one place in terms of who they are and what they are like and end up in quite another. Ebenezer Scrooge springs to mind here in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
Internal journeys tend to prove my point stories are all about conflict and resolution and change has to happen to bring about that resolution. We talk about people coming a long way as we watch their development, say, over a number of years. (I can do the same with my writing journey).
We can do the same thing with our characters – where they are at the beginning of the story, why do they need to change, do they resist the change (yes, inevitably to start with else there’s no story), what makes them change their mind and embrace the change, what are the consequences of that change and so on.
Interesting characters, to me at least, are those where you think they’re heading in one direction but they veer off to something better. Severus Snape in the Harry Potter canon is a great example of that.
What is My Motivation Here?
Motivation is all important here too. The character has to have a very good reason and motivation to want to change. Frodo Baggins accepted the need to leave all he knew and as his story went on, it dawned on him more the likelihood of coming back was remote, yet he still accepted the need for his journey. So he, I would argue, had a major physical journey and a just as important internal one. The Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings is not the naive hobbit he is at the beginning. He has to change. He has to cope with the two journeys then.
This is the obvious use of journeys in fiction and they are a major trope of fantasy stories in particular. But quests don’t necessarily have to be that obvious. A quest to bring about justice could keep your character staying very close to home physically. It is the journey they take to make them get on with the job that matters here. What triggers it? What makes them keep going? What do they have to change about themselves to bring about a successful conclusion? What do they have to make themselves do?
The Writing Journey
Every author has their own writing journey which is a continual one. I hadn’t expected to be a blogger and published writer of flash fiction when I started writing seriously for publication. I’m not sorry about how things have worked out though! The writing journey is meant to be a continual one as you seek to strive to improve on what you do whether you have publication in mind or not.
The lovely thing here though is getting together with other writers at conferences and the like is a fabulous way to (a) make friends who will accompany you on your writing journey and (b) learn specifics to help you make progress on your personal journey here.
I’ve been very grateful to the Society of Authors for their assistance in helping me to avoid scam agents and scam publishers but I had to know the Society existed. How did I do that? By chatting to other writers. By reading the writing magazines regularly. By listening to useful writing podcasts etc. By starting out on my own writing journey and listening to good advice from others. Nobody says you have to be entirely alone on the journey after all.
I must admit I look back at my earlier writing now and immediately spot where I could improve things. That’s a good sign. It means I have developed as a writer. What you write at the time should reflect your writing journey at the time you’re writing the piece. As you write more and gain more experience, you do develop better ways of writing your stories. You build on what has gone before but there has to be a “before” to build upon in the first place. We all have to start somewhere.
There should be a purpose to a character journey then and the story should depend on that purpose (else why write the story?). For a writer’s own journey, see it as a continuing one and enjoy as much of the “ride” as possible. Rejections and/or no hears all sting but every writer gets these so you’re not alone. No road was ever entirely smooth and there are bound to be pot holes along the way but nobody says you have to stay in them. We literally move on with our writing if we are to get anywhere with it at all. Staying still is not an option.
Writing just for your own pleasure should never be discouraged but I would still urge people who are not seeking publication to still try and build on what you do and learn and write more and more and more. You will get better and that will give you even more enjoyment from what you do.
For those seeking publication, building on what you do, learning especially how to pitch your work to the right market, is absolutely what you have to do to get anywhere. Your own journey in fiction should be an interesting one. Your character’s journeys should draw the reader in to make them want to find out how things went.
So happy writing and editing and submitting and enjoy your and your character’s journeys in fiction.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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