As I write my stories, I realize that they all involve a journey. All of the best stories, ultimately, involve a journey. I could go into the whole “life as a journey” metaphor, but I won’t because it is too overdone. Instead, I want to talk about what makes journeys interesting.
When I was young, I grew up near Chicago. We had museums, stores, parks, libraries, sporting events, everything. I enjoyed my childhood. My family was struggling middle class (with six kids), but my parents realized that they could purchase family passes to many attractions (zoo, aquarium, planetarium, museum, etc.) for cheaper than a single day’s admission for all of us. Suddenly, we got to go to the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Brookfield Zoo, and many other places whenever we had time (spring break, summer vacation, school holidays, weekends). Not only that, but the Cubs were terrible and bleacher seats at Wrigley were dirt cheap, so we occasionally got to catch a game back before it was the popular thing to do.
Even with this world of wonders just around the corner, we would get bored. It’s human nature. We even have a saying – familiarity breeds contempt. A trip to a zoo full of fascinating animals from all over the world became a checklist of how many exhibits you could visit in a day and a competition to see how many animals you could spot before your siblings.
This is why journeys fascinate us. Journeys provide an opportunity to get away from the familiar and branch out into the unfamiliar. Yes, you may go to a store or to a museum, but it’s a different store or museum with different contents. You may go to a park, but it’s a different park with different trails and different scenery and different playground equipment (at least until the nineties when every park in America got rid of every piece of interesting equipment in favor of generic stuff in the name of safety – one notable exception is Kehoe Park, where they have kept the giant rocket to play on). We like journeys because they offer intriguing new possibilities for adventure.
This is why the best stories are about journeys. The characters get to explore the unfamiliar, and are presented with opportunities to learn and grow. The landscape changes, the people around them change, and the dangers change. It doesn’t matter what genre you are reading/writing. In a fantasy book, a lengthy journey of several hundred miles takes weeks or months. In a modern book, you can drive that distance in a day or fly it in an hour. In a sci fi piece you can cover that in a minute or so and travel interplanetary or interstellar distances in hours or days. What matters is the journey getting you away from the norm and maybe, just maybe, safely back home (or to the next leg of the journey) by the end of the story.
My first book includes hundreds of miles of travel and ends up in a new locale. My second book includes hundreds of miles of travel and ends up where they started. Book three will have land travel, sea travel, and folks will end up all over the map. Same with book four. The fifth and final book will have lots of travel and everybody (that survives) will end up together. Somewhere…
How do you handle travel in your writing? Does this describe how you view journeys in your reading/writing?