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Drew
November 23rd, 2004, 10:29 PM
I know that we have touched on the issue of describing a long distance of travel before, but I find this instance to be a bit more unique.

I have a character right now that is travelling alone. He is going through miles and miles of forest, where he will eventually have an encounter with a young boy and take him on as a companion. But what until then? How do I explain several days worth of lonely foot travel? Is it OK to just say "he walked for seven days" or do I need to put some real detail in there?

TIA.

Richardb
November 23rd, 2004, 10:57 PM
Depends on what you are doing with the book, and what 'things' you may need. It is a chance to world build a bit, describing the environs. It is also a chance for backstory (one of my favorite things) as the downtime provides ample opportunity for our characters to reflect on what brought htem to this lonely journey... letting their thoughts wander to events from the past that shaped their life and journey. That way you add a sense of time passing.

TheEarCollector
November 24th, 2004, 12:44 AM
Saying "He walked seven days" might be a bit short, but you don't want to get so engrossed in descrbing detail to make it seem like a long journey that the reader actually stops caring about your story.

Try to get through Rip Van Winkle... I didn't need that much of a description of the mountains ;)

Abby
November 24th, 2004, 03:19 AM
I love epic books, and I love fantasy, but one of the things that has turned me off to epic fantasy is the overabundance of unnecessary description. I believed that details are important--but they should be relevant to the plot or character. They should serve a purpose. I would get bored if I read a detailed description of a simple one-person journey. If your character CHANGES during this journey, then you may want to pick out one or two scenes that change him and describe them in detail. But it sounds like the point of the trek in your book is simply to move the character from Point A to Point B (the boy), so I urge you to recapitulate it. It will leave you more room for more engaging, pivotal scenes. You could use one or two sentences to lend a mood / atmosphere to the forest; I think that's all you'd need in a case like this.

TheEarCollector
November 24th, 2004, 08:09 AM
Alright, going back to time length (I still suggest Rip Van Winkle, great lesson in how to ruin your story with nature ;)) I was trying to think of how it was done in other books. Well, the Lord of the Rings, when compared to the movie, was a LOT longer of a trip. One of the key lines I remembered when I saw the movie was something along the lines of "Three months passed..."

He just comes right out and says three months pass from the first time Frodo is told he is going to have to leave, to the time he gets word from Gandalf... I think it might end up being longer I can't recall... But instead of describing Frodo's mundane life for thirty pages he just says three months pass.

I think that is a little blunt but I would extend past a paragraph. People read a story to interact with a character and his setting. You can't interact with a picture.

juzzza
November 24th, 2004, 08:55 AM
I think this is one of those show don't tell scenarios.

No need to state 'seven days later'. Have a scene where your character is exhausted, complaining to himself about the blisters on his feet, his aching legs, what about hunger? He had seven day's rations and was almost out.

Or simply go straight to the scene where he meets the boy and have their initial conversation convey the travel he had to undertake to meet him.

Hereford Eye
November 24th, 2004, 10:21 AM
I find a really good question lurking in these posts: what makes a story epic?
Let me give you some examples: Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion; Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; C.J. Cherryh's The Morgaine Saga; R.A. Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy; Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. Are any or all of these epic?
Now consider China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and/or Scar. Does China write epic fantasy? We all accept Tolkien wrote epic fantasy. What makes it epic? Contrast:

but one of the things that has turned me off to epic fantasy is the overabundance of unnecessary description.

Depends on what you are doing with the book,
In a culture conditioned to sound bites, I suspect Abby (and Juzza after her) represent the norm. For a person attempting to write in the epic vein, I think the answer is more closely aligned with Richardb's remark.

One definition of epic might include sweep; attention to detail. Imagine someone now attempting to sell a book with a 3500+ word prologue that contents itself with a data dump on the world you are about to enter. Salvatore and Moon got away with one page prologues for the above works and Cherryh managed to sell a 1000 word prologue to her Morgaine trilogy but that was back in the pre-historic 1970s. Only a pre-TV Tolkien gets the benefit of 3500+ words. And only a pre-TV Tolkien could spend time describing the surroundings in loving detail because now we want action and movement. Now we want sound bites.

Sparhawke
November 24th, 2004, 01:46 PM
(First post on Writing Forum... woo.)

Punctuate it with exciting incidence, an encounter with a beastie or an ambush by bandits etc.

Reflection is a good idea, perhaps a few flashbacks.

I have to say though... a kid sidekick? Maybe he's better off alone if you don't mind me saying so. ;)

Seriously, the emphasis on the "group of loyal companions" in epic fantasy wearies me. Perhaps it's a reflection on my own rather solitary nature but I enjoy heroes who can take care of bidness on their lonesome, perhaps interacting with people during rest stops, helping them sort out their problems before moving on.

Instead of splitting reader affections between many characters, who nowadays turn out to be pretty flat race/archetype stereotypes IMO, and taxing oneself trying to develop many fully working personalities, why not concentrate on constructing one beautifully realised persona?

Drew
November 24th, 2004, 02:09 PM
I am taking your advice on reflection, giving him a few nightmares, and accounting his camp at night.

Sparhawke... the kid sounds like a bad idea, or like there really needs to be some motive? I agree, the more I think about it, the more it becomes a giant cliche, and that is certainly not what I want.

Here was my thinking (as I wrote in a previous draft of this chapter), two bandits-a younger and older brother-try to collect a toll to allow the main character to pass a bridge. The main character refuses to pay and is attacked by the older brother whom he kills easily. He does not kill the younger brother, instead allows him to walk with him until he can reach somewhere to pass him off. During the trip, he and the boy would get to talking and discuss some of the things that the main character is going through.

Now, it seems, that with the main character having his own personal reflections and nightmares, this boy becomes obsolete. TBH, it was a pretty big cliche taking on a young boy, opening up, blah, blah, blah...

But I am thinking that I don't want to write a few chapters of a character walking alone even if there are reflections. Maybe I could just move the outline up a bit and have him come to his later companion...

What are your guys' thoughts?

Sparhawke
November 24th, 2004, 02:28 PM
Consider picking up a copy of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Maddening solitude done right; it features a man who for all he knows is the sole survivor of a biological war. Everybody else has been turned into vampires by the bio-weapons. By night, the protagonist Robert Neville barricades himself in his old house, goes through the mundane chores of cutting wooden stakes and chopping garlic cloves for protection, all the while having to stomach the taunting and insidious machinations of those who want to get at his blood. By day, he turns hunter, stalking the vampires through the ruins of civilisation.

He is totally alone in this; while the vampires retain basic skills of communication and mobility, all fades into nothing in the face of blood thirst. We get deep inside his psyche, looking at his past, his present motivations, and the bleak prospects of a future spent in the same maddening routine. The story, while not told in first person, is told as if the narrator knows Neville's head and sympathizes.

Here's a thought; maybe you can examine the trials of loneliness, of being unable to communicate with "normal" people because of one's own "extraordinary" circumstances. David Gemmel's John Shannow has been all but maddened by years of battle in a post apocalyptic world; his martial attitudes disallow normal relationships.