Have you ever stopped to consider how much of speculative fiction revolves around travel? It may be backward or forward through time, or it may be across realms as part of a quest, but either way, a character’s emotional journey often matches up with—or at least stems from—a literal journey.
This connection makes sense, since in real life a change in our surroundings forces a change in our perspective as well, however small or subtle. It opens up the possibility of something out of the ordinary happening. And, if it’s a big enough journey, it puts our senses and long-term memory into overdrive. Such is the stuff of compelling fiction as well.
A writer has different options to get a character from point A to point B, whether the movement happens geographically, temporally, or both. You can show the character’s progress in detail, summarize it, or use a scene break to imply it. Like so many perilous journeys, of course, each of these approaches has its own pitfalls to beware.
Beginning writers sometimes get so caught up in trying to show rather than tell that they rely too heavily on the detailed approach. The result can be burdensome to the reader. If you were telling a friend about a job interview you had, would they really need to hear about your commute there if nothing significant happened on the way? Now, it’s one thing if you ran into a traffic jam and were late, or got lost and stumbled onto a portal to another world or something like that, but otherwise wouldn’t you just cut straight to the interview itself?
On the other hand, summarizing a character’s passage through time or space keeps both the character and the pace moving. However, now you run the risk of glossing over something that would have made a compelling scene or snippet of dialogue, so proceed with caution in, ahem, abridging your character’s progress (whether over a bridge or not).
Sometimes you just need to skip ahead to the destination via a scene break. The challenge here is how to clue the reader in to where and when the new scene or chapter is taking place. Sometimes it works just fine to spell it out (“Ten years later …”). Other times a simple character action is enough, the same way you would introduce the setting at the beginning of a story. Either way, the point is to keep the reader involved in the flow of the story and not make them pause in confusion about a sudden change in surroundings.
As a writer learns to skillfully navigate these navigations, the reader can sit back and enjoy a story that moves at a decent clip without losing them in the process. We speculative fiction writers provide the ultimate travel experience, unfettered by the limitations of the known world, with no packing required. Even if you’re just taking a character down the block, you can imbue the experience with tension, significance, and resonance.
Isn’t it amazing how a writer’s choice sequence of words can leave the reader utterly, shall we say, transported?
If you like your fiction to take you to worlds beyond ours, don’t miss Myriad Lands: Volume 2: Beyond the Edge.