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I am new to writing and I am trying to a write a novel. In the first chapter, my main character travels from her hometown to a different town far away. I want to use this time to give the reader a view of the kind of place she lives in and also hint at some things that will be touched on later. It's about three short paragraphs. But then she arrives at her destination. At first, I cut out her arrival and the description of the new town because I was afraid it was too much narrative, but when I went back and read it, it felt like she hadn't gone anywhere and was in the same place, so I felt like I still needed that description as well (around two sentences). Then she checks into her hotel (more description) and runs into someone there, which is where the action picks up. She is by herself, so there isn't much opportunity for dialogue during the transition from her hometown to the new town.

I know all of this just sounds riveting. But if anyone could give me some advice on how to transition from one location to another without just listing the actions (the train arrives, then she checks into her hotel, then she goes to the bar, etc.), but also giving the impression of a new place, that would be great. Thanks!

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If there is no story there, just say:

She traveled by train from London to Paris.

Then get on with the story.

You don’t have to “use this time” because that train ride takes time.

If there is story, you might tell it as flashback story the character recalls as she looks out the window of the train at familiar locations.

This is really a rewriting/editing question, though, not a writing question. You should consider just writing and writing the story that you have without stopping to edit until your first draft is done. Then these questions are easier to answer in the context of the completed draft manuscript, either by you as you rewrite or by an editor as they edit. Extraneous and/or missing parts become more obvious.

Programmers have a saying: “premature optimization is the root of all evil.” For writers, it is premature rewrites, because rewrites are writing optimizations. So it is usually better to write without questioning what you write too much. The second draft is all questioning.

  • Good advice about the rewrite. Some things i want to convey to the reader may come up later and then I could delete it from the train ride. Thanks! – MRichards Feb 21 '16 at 17:48
  • Absolutely correct. There's no need to fill the entire trip with narrative. Just get your character where she's going and get on with the story. – Ken Mohnkern Nov 17 '16 at 14:39
  • Excellent answer. You write the story, not necessarily all that happens in it. I would also like to add that this is a rewriting question, but specifically for those people who discover their story mainly as they write it, perhaps with a broad outline. For plotters, or people who outline their story in extreme detail first, this is definitely a question which belongs in the 'before writing stage'. – Thomas Myron Nov 23 '16 at 0:24
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I agree with the other posts that if there is no story, there isn't much point in described the travel. But if you want to describe it, you should. A beautiful description is a beautiful description. A couple short paragraphs well formed will be nice to the reader, even if that doesn't add much to the story. Haruki Murakami uses a lot of descriptions that aren't that essential to the story line, but they are so beautifully described that you don't care and it isn't a burden to read.

Just keep in mind that it will have to be interesting. A description like

A tree on a hill and then another tree and some houses etc

will indeed seem boring and a burden to read.

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For an example of just this being done brilliantly, read Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. A journey is a rite of passage, a gate between worlds. Handled correctly is it a fantastic way to open a novel. Note that Harper Lee makes it very clear that the journey with which the books opens is a significant journey for Scout. Make sure that the journey is similarly significant for your character. If the journey is merely a means of getting from one scene to another, it will be tedious.

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A train presents a pretty good solution, practically and thematically. You could have her stand at the back of the train and watch her old town recede into the distance while she has a few thoughts/regrets/memories about the town and about her old life there. Then she can walk through the train noticing the passengers and how they are different and then stand at the front of the train and be excited/scared/pensive (or whatever) about the new place she's going to, ending as it pulls into the station. Then cut to the next scene.

Hope that helps.

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A lot of the time, the answer is to cut this sort of thing out. That's because a lot of the time, things like this really only serve to fill space (or are there because the writer was afraid - for whatever reason - to leave the character unattended) and don't add anything to the story.

Judging from what you describe in your question, I don't think that's the case here.

Why? Because you have already hinted at two functions this description can serve in the story: firstly, to set up details that will be relevant later on; secondly, to give a sense of what the character is feeling as she moves to her new town.

Now, I get the impression that you feel the first of these two functions is fairly well fulfilled by what you've written, so, assuming I'm right (and if I am, that you are), I think the problem is probably with the second function the passage could (and arguably should) be serving.

I recommend going back through this description - editing or re-writing as required - paying particular attention to the emotion that your character is feeling, her state of mind, and the sort of things she would notice and attach significance to while making the transition from her old home to her new one.

I think if you can pin that down, the section won't feel extraneous. Instead, it'll be an integral part of how the story conveys the character's internal journey.

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