I spend a lot of time driving to and from work. Each week, it can be up to 4-5 hours. And when I drive, I think a lot about all sorts of stuff, especially my writing and stories. The novel I’m working on right now has felt a bit lackluster. As I started to sort through my story and what’s missing, I realized that I like one specific plotline. That’s the hero’s journey.
When I was much younger, I remember going to my cousins’ house over the summer. They had a lot of awesome computer games that encouraged creativity. There was one specific game that allowed you to create your own stories, put different characters in different scenes, allow them to interact with one another and change settings. They would create amazing scenarios and stories. When they gave me the chance to try, my story consisted of 8-9 characters walking from place to place until they get to their final destination. I even remember one of my cousins telling me that “nothing’s happening.”
Most of my stories consist of my characters traveling from one place to another on a ‘hero’s journey.’ Most of the novel will actually consist of the journey, and this novel is no exception. So as I’m sorting through the plot, I realized that it’s just like that story I created when I was younger. Nothing was happening. They were just traveling.
But that’s not what the hero’s journey is. If a character has to move from point A to point B, then it can’t be the story of a drive down I-80 in Wyoming. (Which if any of you have driven down I-80, then you know what I mean.) Think of The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings. Those characters did nothing but travel, but they ran into Orcs, Dragons, Dwarves, even Gollum. The entire story isn’t about where they’re going, but how they get there and what they face as they travel.
And that’s what my story was missing. My characters needed more conflict, even if they’re just traveling. So I started with a ball of fire. And an earthquake. Suddenly, my story wasn’t stalled, and my characters weren’t just traveling, they were living a story. And that’s what the reader wants. They want to see the characters struggle, to empathize with them.
So if your story feels lackluster, maybe you should take the scenic route instead of driving straight down the highway.