Action & Movement & Monotony? XD
You wanna know something I’ve noticed about epic quests that involve traversing plains, mountains, and deserts to rescue an imprisoned princess or retrieve the Ultimate Magic Object?
They all involve a lot of walking.
Characters are constantly struggling to get from Point A to Point B, whether the gap between the two is made up of physical distance, or the more intangible divider of Time, or all the mundane things that need to happen before the story can move forward.
Example: The Main Character needs to descend into a seemingly bottomless canyon, rescue the love of her life, and then live happily ever after.
The Mundane Obstacles: First, she needs to climb a ladder. A really, really long ladder. Then she needs to find the tunnel where the love of her life is being held. And there are lots of tunnels down there that look exactly the same. And then of course there’s the matter of climbing back up the really, really long ladder.
Most obstacles like this only get a couple of lines at the start or finish, and then a time jump to skip over the Mundane, but there are certain things that you can’t always avoid. If your characters travel a lot, they’re going to be doing a lot of walking.
A lot of walking.
And this isn’t like the movies, where you can just play a musical montage to move things along lickety-split.
Speaking as someone who’s currently in the process of revising a ‘Quest’-ey type of novel, I am more than familiar with growing monotony (my sea-faring characters don’t do much walking, but they do a lot of riding in boats). A time jump or a montage to skip over it all would be lovely, but unfortunately there are things that I need to happen in that span of time where nothing really exciting is going on.
My main characters need to grow closer together as a group. They need to have important conversations. They need to sink deeper into dedication for the mission they’re on.
I can’t just make them set sail from their home country all disjointed and doubtful, then slip in a scene transition to three weeks later and automatically have them united, excited, and eager. I want to show that development, and for that I need to show the monotonous stuff.
And that’s the key, isn’t it? Making things happen, even when the only physical action taking place is walking, or sailing, or riding horseback through field after field. We can’t just poke our heads in at every monster attack or enemy war machine in their path.
So how to make the repetitive, boring, monotonous scenes more interesting?
I’ll let you know once I figure it out for myself. -_-
But here are a few tips that I’m going to try to apply to my own writing:
Conversations & Character Development: If you need your characters to talk, make them talk as they walk down the road. Show us growing changes in the characters, and let us listen in on a character’s thought process during the journey. Don’t your thoughts ever wander when you’re on the road, or mowing the lawn, or in the shower? Your characters’ thoughts will be wandering too, and hopefully they’ll be a little deeper than, “Left foot. Right foot. Step. Step. Watch out for that little rock.”
Background Entertainment: If you watch movies, chances are you’re familiar with this method. Characters are going about their business, walking or driving along the road on a long trip, everyone too tired to really say anything, when the character in the back does something hilarious. Their mount tries to devour their clothing or hair. They suffer continuous torture a la the local insects. They regale their traveling companions with every song they even kinda know. In my
better last post I talked about how little happy or humorous moments can break up Scenes of Eternal Despair? Well, they can also break up Scenes of Eternal Boredom.
Word Choice: It can even make a trip to the grocery store sound exciting (“I lunged for the solitary carton of orange juice, fending off the advances of an elderly woman bound and determined to get her daily serving of citrus.”) See, here’s the thing, folks. In our day to day lives, we don’t just ‘walk’ or ‘look’ or ‘go’ places. We laugh, we cry, we beg, we sing, we gamble, we yell – and we walk.
Even if your characters are ‘just’ walking, that’s not all that’s going on. Things are happening. Big things, little things, serious things and hilarious things. As the saying goes, “It’s not where you’re going. It’s how you get there.”
And finally, one last tip that I probably should’ve come up with before writing the rough draft of the novel I’m currently revising.
Don’t Let the Journey Get Monotonous in the First Place: Don’t give your characters more than a few seconds or a single evening to relax before the next obstacle has them on their feet and moving again. Let each obstacle bring them to the foot of the next obstacle, and let that carry them all the way to their goal.
My only problem at the moment is figuring out how to do that while covering a time period of weeks, if not months. >:|
Also, a tip for the bloggers among you. If you decide to do a series of blog posts following a certain theme, and you announce those themes beforehand, I recommend having the posts written first, or you may find yourself not as interested/helpful in the topic as you thought you’d be. And then you might go off on a tangent that you weren’t thinking of when you came up with a title for the thing. XD
So. The following questions aren’t just a conversation starter. They are honestly things that I’m trying to figure out in my own writing at the moment. Help? XD
Have your characters ever gotten bogged down in some mundane, but necessary activity? How do you avoid putting them in such situations, or how do you take them through one without making things boring? Any tips for me on this subject? XD
And, finally, the (optional) homework assignment: Write a scene describing a mundane activity (a long trip either walking or in the car, shopping for groceries, mowing the lawn) and make it interesting. :)
The next post will be better, I swear. XD