In Part 1 (here it is for anyone who missed it), I discussed travelling in the real world, and the long, endless hours we can take. Great authors realize the lack of drama in hour-by-hour journeys, and find ways around telling the ‘boring parts’. Tension is built by the continuous threat of some antagonistic force, be it Nazgul on your trail or a car which keeps breaking down before exploding in flames. In the hands of a master storyteller, a trudging journey between point A and Point B can become fascinating.
As I mentioned in Part I, I read The Return of the King before the rest of the trilogy. The book made little sense on its own, but I distinctly remember being engrossed in how hard and arduous Frodo and Sam’s journey into Mordor is. It is the struggle for survival, the lack of sustenance and water which makes the journey great.
However, as the Youtube video “How The Lord of the Rings Should Have Ended” has pointed out, Gandalf could have just called up his friends the eagles, had Frodo fly over Mount Doom, drop the ring in the volcano, and flown off.
There goes months of traveling, hardship, the near-destruction of Rohan and Gondor, as well as the enslavement of the Shire.
And there goes a compelling narrative.
In a well-written story, the mode of transportation needs to match both the world and the needs of the narrative. In Star Wars, the Millennium Falcon only fails at the worst possible moment as the entire Empire fleet is bearing down on Han and company. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark’s suit goes through phases of breaking, misfiring, or over-compensating. While it is able to swiftly get him in and out of danger, it is not always at the right time or in the expected way.
To go back to Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam’s plotline is a journey narrative, while much of the rest of the character’s stories are political and/or war stories. There is a reason Tolkien spends much detail on Frodo and Sam’s plight as they cross the endless miles of Mordor, but swiftly moves Gandalf and Pippin from Rohan to Gondor via the horse Shadowfax. Gandalf and Pippin must move with great haste, hoping to reach Gondor before Mordor attacks and Sauron figures out Pippin does not have the ring. They do not have time to go through darkness and suffering. They just need to get to their destination.
In order to characters just need to get from one point to another, many writers have come up with interesting solutions. Here are a few:
- Warp Drive / Hyperspace (Star Trek, Star Wars) – these are methods for cross lightyears of space, to cross impossible distances between planets and solar systems
- Cryo-sleep (2001 A Space Odyssey, much of space sci-fi) – Cryo-sleep is a way for characters to travel months or years of distance without aging, and, apparently, without boredom. If I traveled ten years in space, I would go through a lot of coloring books.
- Teleportation (Star Trek, various Sci-fi and Fantasy, Eye of the World Series) – This is a common trope of Star Trek. While it does not always work, it tends to be a tried and true method of moving characters quickly. In the Eye of the World Series by Robert Jordan and Brian Sanderson, there are various versions of teleportation and moving quickly.
- Hidden Passage (Harry Potter, many other stories) – The walk to the Forbidden Forest, or back into Hogwarts always seemed faster with a hidden passage, and no guards to stop them. Hidden passages create a diagonal, and a conveniently safe way of moving characters when the story needs to speed up.
- Water Vehicle/ Boat (Pirate movies, anything on or in water) – In reality, civilizations cropped up around rivers and lakes for two reasons: 1. Easy access to water for daily needs (drinking, bathing, irrigation), and 2. Travel by water is a lot faster and easier than travel by foot or horseback. However, you are limited to waterways wide enough for the vessel. This includes submarines, which is a great way to travel because submarines are cool.
- Gateway (Stargate, Eye of the World Series, various Sci-fi and Fantasy) – This is the main attraction and premise of Stargate – a gateway can cross open a wormhole between one point in space to another lightyears away. In The Eye of the World, there are a couple versions of gateways made between two points via magic to assist main characters in moving across a vast map and world. There is some interesting stuff done – such as a collapsing hidden road, the description of burning a hole through reality, or of bending reality to bring two points together.
- Land-Based Locomotive Vehicle (Anything with technology) – This is the basic cars and trains, which can be transformed into exciting things like steam-punk cars or trains, or futuristic variations on the modern car. Motorcycles are also included.
- Flying Vehicle (Pretty much everything) – This includes flying beasts such as dragons, unicorns, pegasi, griffins, or flaming ducks, as well as cars, bicycles, broomsticks, umbrellas, oh, and helicopters and planes.
- Flying – This includes individual flying either via personal powers (Superman), or a individual propelling device/jetpack (Rocketman)
- Tireless Horse (Lord of the Rings – Shadowfax, many Western and Fantasy novels) – sometimes these are magical horses, sometimes these are poorly written horses. Either one can gallop at full tilt and arrive at the destination without ever breaking a sweat.
- Montage / summary – In movies, the road between two places can be condensed by a short musical interlude with a few quick shots. In books, it can be done in a few sentences (for example: They traveled, here, there, and everywhere” – that’s a lot of miles in one sentence.)
- Dream Space (Eye of the World series, Doctor Who, many other fantasy/sci-fi adventures) – Sometimes, meeting in person is not necessary, and communication and/or travel can happen via a magical dream space. In the last episode of Season 7 (second half), Lady Vastra is able to talk to communicate with people across time and space in order to assist the Doctor.
- Time Machine (Pretty much any time travel story, ever) – Traveling through time is cool. Especially when you can ride in the TARDIS. (H.G. Wells’ machine is pretty nifty too.)
- Travel by Map (Indiana Jones, The Muppets) – characters magically go from one place to another via a line moving from one point on a map to another. Seems very effective.
When traveling through fiction, sometimes, it’s the destination which counts. However, as a writer, we can make the world much more interesting by dabbling in various methods of travel, and then building new quirks and ideas on what others have already done.
What is your favorite method of travel? If you could have one fictional vehicle, what would it be? (Mine would be Boba Fett’s jetpack. The spaceship would be cool too, but the jetpack more practical on Earth.) Do you have creative methods of travel in your story? Which method of travel would be most terrifying if it were on fire?
More Map Fun
Side Note: Here’s a rough sketch of the map for my current Work In Progress. It’s not as detailed as I like, but it is a helpful tool for determining the world, plot, and methods of travel.