I'm currently struggling to write the first portion of my science fiction story that involves two characters traveling, and I was wondering if you guys had any writing resources to recommend. My goal is to use the journey as a way for the reader to get immersed in to the world I have created, where the creatures and landscape is unlike our own. However, the characters who are traveling just met and one of them is injured as well as hallucinating, so I don't want to leave out character development and backstory. I also don't want to throw too much at the reader, but at the same time there's so much information I want to convey. Does anybody have any tips? I've been told that writers shouldn't spend too much time writing about the journey when the destination is more important, but I see it as an opportunity to show the world building I've created as well as the characters' personalities as they interact with the environment.

3 Answers 3


You have to do both at the same time.

Here's the problem with World Building: It is engineering. Whether you are educated as an engineer or not; world building is devising a machine, an ecosystem, that "works" in some sense, is self-sustaining and relatively balanced and stable from year to year, through seasons. For a million years there have been deer or deer-like animals in the woods, predators that take them down for food, parasites that exploit them, and somehow their skills, the growth of food and water, have all been balanced in a way that the system persists for hundreds of thousands of generations.

But generally, only a small percentage of the population loves to see how machines work. Especially fiction readers, because they want an adventure with characters they can relate to, feel like they are friends, or love interests, or themselves. They want humanity in some form or another, some struggle going on for every page. They just don't want the lecture of how it works, why it is evolutionarily logical for these animals to exist, etc.

In order to inject that kind of information, it must be relevant to the characters and have consequences.

That is the trick, and it is a hard one for the author. You can get away with a hundred words of exposition about how the world works, on occasion, readers will give you that. Go much longer, and they skip ahead, to something happening, to a character saying something or doing something or both.

For your world-building to matter, it cannot just sit there as a backdrop, it must make a difference in what characters can and cannot do, it must provide resources for them to exploit or dangers for them to avoid or obstacles for them to overcome.

Once our character, a young girl, learns the only way she can possibly get to the Broken Tower before the dark moon rises is to traverse the Forest of Vipers, then readers care about the Forest of Vipers. That chunk of your world is now both an obstacle and a threat, and in dialogue or exposition you can talk about it for awhile, then spend time describing its perils as our young hero picks her way through it, and meets the handsome and helpful prince that, she was warned, by the oracle that sent her here, is possessed by an evil blood demon.

You must connect your setting to the story, meaning it must have consequences for the characters. This is another way of saying it must matter to the characters and plot and story. If nothing else, character's must react to the setting; but that kind of weak consequence has a very short line of credit. You can only have a "wow" factor for a character once or twice in a story, they can't just walk around and marvel at everything. They are supposed to be busy doing things!

writers shouldn't spend too much time writing about the journey when the destination is more important,

I disagree with this assertion. Look at Lord of the Rings, its all about the journey. Look The Sixth Sense, it is all about the journey; jump to the end and the movie is six minutes long and unsatisfying.

A journey can be central to the entire novel; and actually should be if you have done a bit of world building. It is on the journey that character is built, through conversations, dealing with minor problems and disagreements, falling in love, growing up by learning how the world really is, and so on. It is on the journeys that readers come to see personalities and real people displaying their emotions; of frustration, victory, disappointments, kindness, confusion, or callousness. We see them struggling to make progress.

Skip the journeys and most novels are very badly damaged short stories, because your heroes arrive at their destination too quickly for the reader to really care about them very much. It is in their dialogue and their decisions and actions in various circumstances and incidents that we come to know them.


I have to disagree with Amadeus, Worldbuilding is storytelling, it's just a different kind of story. The hard part for many worldbuilders is to step away from that story, which they've usually been working on for a long time, and be objective about how much of it their audience actually needs to see.

Most of my worldbuilding, and certainly the parts that I tend to post on the stack never make the finished page. The consequences do, emergent phenomena that effect my characters are included in finished works but not the reasons behind them; to my characters those are simply part of how their world works, they don't warrant further comment.

Travel is important to many stories but is not in itself generally very interesting, for example in Lord of Rings the journey to Mount Doom is roughly, based on map scale extrapolations from mentioned distances, 1700-2000 miles and takes almost exactly six months from the time they leave Hobbiton. Of this journey the reader bears direct witness to less than a hundred miles and a handful of the more interesting events, like the tavern stop in Bree, and two or three days out of a two month stay in Rivendell. The only parts of the journey, in terms of the travelling, that really get something like a blow-by-blow telling are the trip through Moria and when Frodo and Sam go up the Morgul Vale and over the pass of Cirith Ungol.

In short the inclusion of travel and scenery needs to have purpose in the story you are trying to tell. Particular scenery, or flora and fauna, may trigger memories for your protagonists that are important to their modern character.

writers shouldn't spend too much time writing about the journey when the destination is more important

Sure but the really important word in that statement is when; sometimes the destination is the most interesting part of the tale, a true beginning to the story that the characters have been trying to get to. At other times the destination is just the end of the story. Most often travel is something of an interlude between the "action phases" of stories.

It sounds like you'd like to use the journey to create depth in your world and characters, this is a worthy goal and one that can be accomplished but take care not to get lost in the world at the expense of your story. Worldbuilding is the story before the story, it should give you somewhere to tell the tale but you only show as much of the world as your characters are actually interacting with, now or in the past.


I've been told that writers shouldn't spend too much time writing about the journey when the destination is more important

This was incredibly jarring to me. Who told you this? The journey can be everything to the narrative--and lots of fantasy is entirely made up of journey.If no time was spent on journey there would be no story.

Examples: The Quest for the Holy Grail in the King Arthur legend.

Lord of the Rings, ANY OF THEM

Most of the Dragonlance series

Star Wars (the first batch, most of the narrative isn't about the destination, it's what they have to do to get there... and the obstacles they have to over come to do that.)

COUNTLESS OTHERS. It's not about killing the whale, it's about the hunt for it...

Let me introduce you to A Hero's Journey. This is the basic format that most stories fill, even if your protagonist is more interesting than the standard hero.

A word about the function of characters and worlds: The character and world should, most often, serve at the pleasure of the plot. If thousands of pages of backstory help convey the plot rather than hinder it, ok. If world descriptions further the plot huzzah. If it doesn't serve the narrative, then deeply consider whether or not to leave it in.

There are a great many writers who left in things that didn't serve the plot, Tolkien amongst them. And a great many since then that loaded up their world with description, ie. The Wheel of Time series.

But those writers were very clear in themselves about what they wanted the descriptions to do, and what they wanted to achieve.

How MUCH you can do that would very much depend on the standards of the genre you're aiming at. If it's fantasy-based, those books are longer, and they generally have more world-building stuffed in.

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