Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The other day, I went on a trip to the coast with my friend. We had no particular plan, the only constraint being the town where we were to stay the night. My goal, when driving, is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. The travelling itself is a means to an end, even if it is a good excuse for belting out Disney tunes in the blessed privacy of a car.

Anyone who’s ridden in my car will tell you that I’m a lead-foot. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to work on this particular trip. It would have been quite a boring weekend, to say the least, if we’d rushed straight to the B&B where we were staying, ignoring the wonders of the coastal farms and beaches in our rush to get to our destination. And careening along narrow, twisty, country lanes is asking for a head-on collision. I had to slow down. Stop. Enjoy the scenery. Maybe take a few pictures, while I was at it.

It made me reflect on how I write. I approach my writing the same way I approach the matter of transportation. I know my starting point; where the story begins, and the characters set off on their literal or metaphorical journey. I know the climax and ending; where I want my characters to arrive, and how they’ve overcome the problems plaguing them at the beginning.

“Sounds good,” you say. “You know what you want to do and where you’re headed. What’s your problem?”

The problem is, I’m only concerned with reaching Point B. The middle section of my novels, beyond the initial set-up, becomes a race to reach the really fun and dramatic scenes at the end. This trend is even reflected in individual chapters–a beta reader once told me that I had strong beginnings and endings, but the middle left a lot to be desired. Apparently this is a common ailment (hence why Book 2 in trilogies tend to be the weakest), but it made me stop and wonder: What am I missing out on? More importantly, what is my writing missing?

The hardest part has been recognising that the endpoint is not the be-all and end-all. It’s rewarding to get to the end, but the reward comes from what they went through to get there. The middle shouldn’t be a steady uphill build. The middle should see my characters hit rock-bottom, then realise that there’s further to fall. It should see their motivations and beliefs tried, tested and twisted until they no longer have anything to cling on to.

Or, if I’m not feeling particularly sadistic, I can explore their past; why my characters are where they are, and do what they do, in the present day. What has happened to bring them to this point, and how it drives them (and the story) onwards. I was waiting until the end to throw all my big revelations at the reader, not realising that it’s the onward journey from those revelations that keeps the readers’–and the writer’s–interest in the story.

And really, that’s the key. Writing an intriguing middle was all about my mindset and how I approached the yawning chasm between start and finish. If I could look at the middle differently–if I could look at the middle as part of the fun and not a mandatory lead-up–then it would have been fun to write. And if it was fun to write, then by golly, it will also be fun to read.

As it turned out, the drive to and from the B&B was the weekend. There was the excitement of setting out on a new adventure, the moment we set off with sunglasses donned and music blasting, and there was the anticipation of reaching our destination and unwinding. But they weren’t what made the trip memorable.

What will stick in my mind is a picture of tree-lined country roads, brilliant red blossoms peeking out to check if winter truly was coming to an end. Then there was the homely wooden arch declaring the presence of an abbey; we turned back along the winding mountain path to take in the atmosphere of this cozy, cottage-like chapel. Once we were out of the mountains and along the coast, we pulled out of the highway to a lookout spot on the cliffs overlooking a small town, bounded by a long white beach in front and rolling green hills behind. It was all unplanned, and it was glorious.

The sun was setting as we reached our final destination of the B&B. It felt like an achievement, but not because we’d been so focused on getting there. No, it was simply a perfect way to finish off the day and reflect on the journey we’d taken.

Some day, I’d like my writing to be like that trip. But that, I suspect, is another journey in itself.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on a young adult novel with a kick-ass heroine. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and random musings on writing.


One thought on “Not All Who Wander Are Lost

  1. It’s difficult to hide from yourself on the road.

    I’m near the end of re-reading American Gods, a novel that’s pretty much about road trips (among other large, sprawling themes). Since first reading it, my life has turned completely upside-down, and I’m trying to decide whether it’s me that’s changed so radically or the book. (Well, the book actually is slightly different; this is a re-edited edition.)

    Travel, particularly aimless travel, is something that can be transformative to those who will allow it to be–in a way that’s difficult to define and pin down. When friends ask me why I love it so (in my case, it’s travel on a bike), the answer is difficult for me to pare down to an elevator pitch: It changes, just a bit, how I look at the world, how I think about it, how I feel about choices I’ve made. Perhaps more solo travel experience in the last ten years explains part of why Gaiman’s magnum opus–and this article–are resonating with me so strongly now.

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