trudge trudge (logistics and fantasy)

When asked to describe ‘Lord of the Rings’, my mother replies with a series of sound effects: cling clang!, trudge tromp trudge, clang! cling, cling!. As she is a landscape and still life painter and not enamored of fiction (much less fantasy– she prefers very historical fiction, biographies, theology), I will forgive her for that.

One thing I remember from reading the Hobbit is that the trial through Murkwood forest took absolutely forever. For Bilbo, for the dwarves, especially the poor saps that had to carry Bombur, and for me. The chapter and descriptions were so long that one really did start to despair and get hungry before they finally are attacked by spiders. Like the company’s view, no end seemed to be in sight.

My real dad (biological father, lives across the state) once commented that Tolkien could take three pages just to describe the wind. When mentioned to a Tolkien fan, she immediately shot back ‘Yes, but he does a damned good job of it.’ Which makes me wonder. How does Tolkien do that?

Logistics and travel has always been a weakness in my work. I can’t stand traveling. My philosophy tends to be ‘If nothing is going to happen, then fast forward and get to the interesting bits,’. This can be good and can be bad, depending on how it’s used. I know that in my 0-draft for NaNoWriMo I skimped on descriptions and most of the scenery. It bored me, and I knew what things looked like, so like exposition, I’d write it when it was needed. This was something that my test reader commented on, along with, ‘it feels like it should be twice as long’ and ‘some parts are awesome, some parts need work’.

The reason my meter’s slowed down is because I’m working on a Wyrren chapter. The end is particularly climactic, but to get there… well, there are logistics. I have a character walking around in a series of dark tunnels with a company, and since she has a speech disability she’s not inclined to conversation. It’s gotten me thinking about how to detail this without just going to a summery or an internal dialog. So far I’ve mostly struggled through, sentence by agonizing sentence, partly with what descriptions available– the way an armed company makes people scatter like frightened birds, the sound of a waterfall in the distance, and the request to change paths so that she can see the water.

Are there any tricks to this? Does the richness of the prose make travel interesting? The characteristics of the places passed by? The thoughts and emotions these details evoke? What would Tolkien do? Is anyone any good at making these transitions interesting?

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5 thoughts on “trudge trudge (logistics and fantasy)

  1. I wonder about this a great deal. But the funny thing is that, although to me it feels more like trudging than anything, many readers love the details of travel. They want to know what the company is carrying, what they’re eating, what the tunnel feels like. You don’t need to go on as much length as Tolkien tended to do which, occasionally, went on a bit long even for my tastes; but take the moment to stop, pause, and look around.

    People read books because they want to feel a part of it. Show the reader what you see, and what your character sees. If you describe it with wonder, it’ll be wond’rous. πŸ™‚

  2. In my fantasy novella-in-the-works called Doranchorn, -much- travelling is to be had to shitloads of chagrin. The crick-in-the-neck of Tolkien’s Hobbit/LotR series is that it could well be squeezed onto the bookrack under Travelogue. I forgive and chalk it up to his being an Old English Lit. enthusiast, wherein travelling served the purpose of remembering landmarks important to a people’s history. I’m not convinced this is necessary in the world of the Written and incredibly accurate maps.

    I think there is a lesson to be learned in Stephen King’s /The Gunslinger/, which is all travel and predominately all desert, but doesn’t get old. But since I’m not quite finished with it, I’m not sure I know what that lesson is just yet.

    Anyway, what an interesting topic! I may spoil at something similar over at Daybookery.

  3. I admit that travel scenes usually bore me to tears because so many of them are of a National Geographic, documentary-style nature. They went here and did this there and stopped to eat at this point, etc. If the prose is very, very good, this works well and keeps the reader interested.

    But being someone who loves character-driven stories, I usually try to keep every part of the story character-centric, using, as you mentioned, their thoughts, emotions, and fatigue to create a sense of their travel. It’s one thing to describe some majestic mountains in your character’s path; it’s another to have him panting and struggling to climb said mountains.

    I also like to cheat a little by slipping in conversations between characters or stories they tell each other about the lands they travel through. You noted that your character is disinclined to talk; what about using others in the company for conversation? Or perhaps weaving in a history of the tunnels into the scene?

    Hmm. Yeah, next to sex scenes (which I maintain are the hardest scenes to write without losing your reader to fits of giggling or nausea), I find traveling scenes to be the hardest. Good luck! πŸ™‚

  4. Pingback: Writing Fiction, Not a Travelogue « A Bloggering Hole

  5. You know, it is amazing, but just the name Murkwood has such a powerful image in my mind, it really stands as a testament to the amazing world-building work that Tolkien was capable of.

    In terms of traveling, scenary, and description, the awesome author AC Gaughen (if you haven’t checked out her site: http://blog.finalword.org/ you def should) taught me to use a combination of colors and sensory images – I know it sounds strange, but it has served me well to create interesting description. For example: “the company moved silently through the low passages with nothing but the dark blue sound of water dripping from unseen nooks and crannies.”

    it might work, it might not, but i think it adds an interesting and unexpected dimension when thrown in occasionally with description.

    Hope this might help! Good luck!

    And thanks for your kind comment on http://www.thelifeuncommon.net…you are always an honored guest there!

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