Wednesday, July 10, 2013

by Elizabeth

Probably like a lot of you, travel is on my mind. Every summer I hit the road as much as possible, and I've already got one trip down my gullet and am looking forward to my next. I might even try to squeeze in a short bonus trip at the end of the summer, and maybe a lone weekend away after the kids are back at the books.

I just returned from my annual jaunt to North Carolina, and this year my daughter's friend joined us for the journey. We are--how do I say this? Okay--weird, so it was interesting to see how Miss Buddy would react to our travel quirks. I let her parents know she did splendidly, and upon our return home I was still glad we had invited her along.

Got me thinking, though, about how travel plays into our writing. How does your main character feel about travel? Do they travel at all, and have they in the past? Are they prepared, what kind of packers are they, do they love or hate to fly? All these things can not only help with character development, they might also be major plot points. (Julie's Calling Me Home is a road trip, and The Oak Lovers has a major section in which Kim's characters are in constant motion. An early version of Susan's book began with a character on a plane; Pamela's main character reflects on hours spent in the backseat of a car traversing the country, and Joan? Characters crossing oceans and continents, and plenty of language barriers.)

And it's not only attitudes about travel, but necessity and preparedness. If a situation arose for a character to get an unexpected trip to Paris leaving in a week, could she go? Does she have a passport, or would she need to scramble to get one or forgo the trip? Would it make a difference if the trip was pleasure or emergency? These are things that, as my current novel unfolds, are questions I must ask for several characters. Realizing what kind of differences they make add richness and texture, and it's almost amazing to me that it's only now I've thought about it in concrete terms.

It could be that travel doesn't matter to a book. There are plenty that don't. But in developing your characters, even if they never venture past their own front door in the course of 80 thousand words, it can't hurt to know: do they have a passport? Have they ever? Where have they been, and how has it made a difference to who they are? I know my travels are important to me, and without them, I'd be a much flatter person. Which would only be a good thing if I were Flat Stanley. Now that's a seasoned traveler!


  1. Delighted to see someone write about this topic! I completely agree - the travel-readiness of a character tells us so much about that person. I also love to look at how they feel about being in a strange place (whether by choice or by chance), how adaptable (or not) they are, and so on.

  2. Hi Swati! I have a good friend I travel with who has terrible travel luck--but it does not let it deter her one bit. In fact, we travel together at least every other year. In Guatemala, she got food poisoning--but still got on the bus for our big multi-day tour. At least her passport was unexpired, right?


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