by Tim Kane
Most of the time, writers shouldn’t need to show their characters traveling. Simply jump cut from one scene the next. Yet there are times when a scene about travel may be necessary, and invigorating.
What follows are some tips to writing travel scenes with punch.
Change of Venue
For those writers who hew closely to the jump cut advice, they might find every scene taking place in a room. Maybe only a few rooms. What should have been a novel becomes a play with few backdrops. Use a traveling scene to break up the monotony.
Think of the opening scene to Pulp Fiction. Vincent Vega and Jules could have had their epic conversation about the Royal with Cheese anywhere. Yet Tarantino wanted the audience to soak up the Los Angeles setting. What better way than to have the duo driving. Yet he didn’t simply film them traveling in a car with shots of the street. No. He infused the scene with purpose. In this case, to help viewers understand the title characters.
All stories have two levels: the outer physical level and the inner, thought level. The experienced writer will know how to keep conflict and tension going by switching between outer conflict (chases, arguments, shootouts) and internal conflict (dilemmas, decisions, doubts, crises). A travel scene is an excellent time for a character to work through some important decision. Perhaps she’ll struggle through the clues of a mystery while walking through the park. Maybe your protagonist will weigh his choices while picking up lunch at a fast food joint. Think of yourself as a director. You don’t want your character to be thoughtful and unresponsive. That’s bad writing. Find a setting where he can do something while he thinks.
In some stories (like horror) the author may need to create a sense of foreboding or dread. Take The Fall of the House of Usher. The first few pages are all about the house. Modern audiences might not stand up to such heavy handed description. Don’t make your scenes with atmosphere be only about the setting. Include some kind of conflict (internal or external).
Keep It Short
In most cases, keep travel scenes short. There’s a reason that most movies only show characters driving for a few minutes. Unless the conversation is engaging, it slows down the film. Think along the same terms when you write. Show your characters traveling, but include a purpose. Then move on to the next scene.