Hey writers! Today, we’ll discuss journeys and how they can impact our characters in unexpected ways. Many great stories involve a main character traveling on a journey of some kind, whether it be a literal, physical or perhaps an emotional one. Like life, however, most journeys do not go smoothly and often involve unexpected challenges. Sometimes these detours are minor and don’t affect the overall endgame. Other times, they can change the direction of a character and story immensely.
As an example, John wants to pick up a new book. On Wednesday evening he decides to head to the bookstore. On his way he runs into an old friend he hasn’t seen in years, Bill, who now looks different. Bill tells John he just saw something terrifying and invites John to see it for himself. John’s evening journey has now changed from a simple trip to the bookstore into a spooky adventure with an old friend.
For another example, let’s take that same situation but make it smaller. John is headed to the bookstore on Wednesday evening and on his way a stranger asks him for the time. John stops, checks his phone, and sees it is 7:03pm. The stranger thanks him and John proceeds to the bookstore.
Both examples are unexpected detours in John’s original journey to the bookstore. One of them greatly changes the events of John’s evening and the other only briefly interrupts his path. But they both make his journey more interesting to follow and add twists and turns into his night that will cause him to make decisions as a character. These decisions will let the readers know more about who John is and where his journey will ultimately lead him. Even the minor interruption could have a bigger meaning later in the story.
Now try writing some detours yourself. As the writer, you get to decide everything about these twists and turns and where they will lead. When writing a longer story – such as a novel – the stakes of your character’s journey can be more expansive and lead them through all sorts of different situations, such as traveling to a new world or surviving a harsh one. For this exercise, I would encourage you to start with something a little smaller scale and work your way up to bigger situations.
By starting small, the obstacles and detours the characters undergo can originate from a natural place and develop on their own as the story moves forward. Remember both situations with John and notice how the initial change in his journey was a small one. One thing will lead to another, which will allow you more opportunities for new twists.
To start, think of a physical place a character may want to go. Then consider these questions along the way:
- What happens that changes their journey?
- What challenges do they face?
- Is it a good challenge or a bad one?
- Do they meet any interesting people? See anybody familiar?
- Do they make it to their destination safely and as they started? Do they change in the process?
As a reminder, you don’t always need to have the answers right away. Some writers like to start their character’s journeys with a general idea in mind and come up with obstacles as they write. Others prefer to have their journey mapped out ahead of time. Both paths are fun in their own ways. Pick whichever one feels most comfortable to you for this exercise.
Afterward, if you want to share what you’ve written or would like some feedback on your work, please submit your stories to email@example.com. Happy writing and safe travels to your destination!