I have always had a problem with travel in my stories. Since I'm writing an epic fantasy novel, travel is a big theme as characters often have to move from where they are to where the plot dictates.

However, one of the difficulties I have is that the travel itself is often not important to the plot. In the novel I'm reading now (Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind), there is a huge amount of travel, and the author adds needless encounters with various magical beasts just to keep tension high. The story I'm writing is already large enough in scope without needless extra diversions. I am not a fan of action scenes just for the sake of having something happen; I want everything that happens to advance my main plot.

Additionally, the acts of the characters dealing with innkeepers, staying the night, paying for their food, eating, etc., is boring both to write and to read.

To make my current dilemma even more frustrating, the two characters who are traveling together in this specific instance have just met each other and should be forging their relationship during the travel. So while I don't want to focus too heavily on the travel, I do want to be able to expose their interactions.

How can I gloss over the uninteresting parts while still keeping enough to show this character development?

  • I felt more and more like this is an unanswerable question as I wrote it, but I still want to see what ideas you guys have.
    – StrixVaria
    Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 15:53
  • 3
    I agree, but +1 it's an interesting question.
    – mootinator
    Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 16:00
  • This always gets me. Worse when I feel like the voice of the writing is very meticulous and would describe boring travel
    – Andrey
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 19:55
  • I have a few novels under my belt and I've found some great solutions to this. Message me if you are still writing and still need help answering this question.
    – SirenKing
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 0:12

15 Answers 15


If I'm following you, it seems that the travelling itself isn't important, but that the characters have traveled is advancing the plot.

You can cut out most of the actual journeying, showing the quest in what the characters do when they stop moving. You can have characters refer to the travelling enough to make it clear how far they traveled -- gods damn it, my feet hurt.

As a bonus, if you have on-the-road scenes after setting up this pattern, they'll come across as fresh and different.

  • 7
    I couldn't agree more. Anything unimportant to the story can often simply be skipped entirely. Just insert a blank line! E.g. "Bye now, and bring back some good pictures!" <blank line> "He arrived in Istanbul only two days before the festival." Commented Mar 13, 2011 at 19:09

So, the inner purpose of the journey is to forge the relationship between the two characters, show the reader how they interact with each other, and also show the reader who each character really is.


There doesn't need to be any major conflict, but even a minor conflict, just to show how each character reacts.

I'm pulling this out of my head as an example, not knowing anything about your story or the characters, but what happens if they get to an inn, and it's not there, or it's closed, or all the rooms are taken? How does each respond to this news, how does this change how they treat each other? Do they go with the flow, get aggravated and stressed out, try to offer more money to get a room?

What if the wagon breaks down on a path far away from town? Or they pass a hitchhiker. Or one gets sick for a day and slows the travel down?

Every minor conflict (with each other, environment, themselves, whatever) has a chance to show each characters true personality and also gives each personality a chance to interact with each other. This could be as small as a paragraph, or as long as a chapter, but still relatively separate from the primary plot.

Later in the story, this will also give you events to call back to as the characters are interacting with each other.

  • 2
    This is essentially true of every scene in the story. If there's no conflict, there's no scene.
    – StrixVaria
    Commented Nov 28, 2010 at 16:02
  • One can also use mundane aspects of traveling to show relationship and changes in relationship. For example, how do they divide camp chores? Does that change? Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 8:05

If your story is large in scope as you say, it should be fairly simple to switch scenes for the majority of the boring travel.

Jumping to other characters and happenings and back again means you will be able to put in just enough about the travel to show some character development through interaction, while also advancing plot in other areas.


One mistake I made early in my writing is that I felt that everything had to be described at all times. If the bad guy was fixing a presidential election, over the course of the novel I'd continually update the polls as the bad guy's plan unfolded. Boring.

Christopher Buckley does this well in his novel Boomsday. The protagonist's actions are meant to provoke civil unrest. Buckley does not just smash in a bunch of needless scenes to illustrate this, though. Instead, he just updates us with a paragraph or two at appropriate times. The reader knows what is going on in the backdrop, and we can go on reading the novel.

You say:

the two characters who are traveling together in this specific instance have just met each other and should be forging their relationship during the travel.

There is no need to recount the entire eight-day journey across The Whatever Plains. You can write one scene wherin our heroes are tested, and how they solve or escape the situation will result in a different relationship between the two characters. Maybe they encounter a thief and one guy wants to kill the thief and the other convinces him to spare his life and let him go free. The relationship has thus changed, character 1 respects character 2's council enough to change his mind on something he was otherwise determined to do.

The best stories don't simply make this a throwaway scene. "Oh they found a thief and let him go and now the characters are cool with each other." That's a waste of time. Rather, the thief can crop up late in the story and provide something that spares the characters. Or, if tragedy is your game, the thief can partner with Bad Guy and eventually cause the colossal undoing of our heroes. The novel's moral center is thus conveyed, the reader learns some lesson, etc, etc...


Sitting around a campfire discussing the highlights of the day's events is a good mechanism for character development during travel. It also gives your characters a chance to bond.

Leave out all the tedious encounters such as checking into the inn. Think how they do it on TV. All the mundane is left out because there is only a short programming window. Readers will assume your character checked into the inn if you tell them, "Creepo Widowmaker sat on the uncomfortable cot in the Ogre's Brew inn staring into the dim candle."

  • 3
    One warning, though, is you don't want to spend time looking back at something that happened. If it's important enough to reminisce over, it's important enough to show your readers. I'll add that I've wondered about this, too, in something I'm writing. If they run into people, shouldn't those people be important to the story as a whole, not just people who show up along the way? So then I'm trying to think ahead about how they might affect the plot.
    – foggyone
    Commented Nov 27, 2010 at 16:05
  • Second foggy, talking about the past is not nearly as effective as immersing the reader into the present. Commented Nov 27, 2010 at 16:29
  • @foggyone - +1, Good words of caution. The campfire scene can work though, if the writer wants to expose the characters through dialog instead of needless action (as StrixVaria refers to it). The discussions of the day are simply a catalyst to introduce each character's tendencies. The actual events discussed are not so important, thus no need to show them.
    – JMC
    Commented Nov 28, 2010 at 8:11
  • 1
    Yeah I could see them sitting around and going, "So, Phil, I never knew you were so good at riding. I thought for sure we were going to lose you there for a moment" and then have Phil talk about something in his past that produced his skill. Horrible example, I know. Sort an after-the-fact reaction rather than a rehashing.
    – foggyone
    Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 2:50
  • 1
    @foggyone, yes you nailed it. It's reflection rather than rehashing. In the midst of an action scene there is little time to expose the inner workings of a character past the traditional one liners. In a casual setting, a campfire, the author is free to use extended dialog to build the relationship and intimacy between the characters as they move the plot forward through foreshadowing.
    – JMC
    Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 5:26

One thing that should be used as a seasoning in Odyssey tales is the idea of the false destination. The idea that where the characters thought they were going is not in fact the destination and a further journey must be undertaken to complete their objective. Also, the idea of the false arrival where the protagonists consider abandoning their quest because they arrive somewhere that offers them an alternative.

Also the idea of having sub-objectives is useful to make the travel seem necessary e.g.

We want to destroy the dark amulet of goomba but we have no idea how. I have heard that the Enchanter Philip knows of a way but he lives in Footrot Swamp which can only be crossed with the aid of the Footrot Guardian who requires that all whom he assists perform a task for him.

Of course if someone says that then the reader actually knows what they have to sit through before anyone gets anywhere near disposing of the goomba amulet. So better to have a false expectation that it is Enchanter Philip who knows how to destroy the blasted thing and that he lives in a small village on the edge of Footrot swamp. So visit Anklemange Village and the amulet is toast, but when the heroes get there Philip's house is deserted and crawling with nasties. Only then do they find out that Philip had to relocate into the swamp and so on.

If you tell people exactly what the heroes are going to have to do then the heroes may have a heart filled with courage and conviction to get this tedious series of fetch-quests done but the audience will take their own view on whether they want to go with.

If you're always promising that the destination is just around the next corner people commit and you have time to woo them with your excellent characters and richly populated world.

It seems like a con trick but really what you should consider is that you're making one long journey into a series of little sub-journeys, each with their own resolution. If they add to the cause of plot thickening so much the better.

For example what happens if, when the Guardian transports them into the Footrot Swamp they are harangued by a weird sentient swamp lizard who tells them that the amulet can never be destroyed but that it can be changed from a force in service of the dark god Goomba to one in the service of the light god Abmoog. This is new information. Is it a lie? Or could it be true? Besides the legend states that Abmoog was killed by Goomba before the Aeon of the Cedarwood Badger. So having an amulet in the service of a dead god would be useless, wouldn't it?

If the reasons for the quest the nature of the task and even the protagonist's own ethical framework are questioned by the journey they are undertaking it creates tension in the actual journey itself. Your audience will learn that just because it looks like a duck don't mean it won't go "moo".

And all the best stories are about cows that turn out to quack.


David Weber's The War God's Own has some lengthy travel scenes in it which he does quite well. I suspect this as an older book predates his Heinlenesque tendency to include huge info-dumps. You can get it free from Baen's Free Library. One of the things I like is he shows character growth and learning about each other through relatively minor interactions within the party.


Uninteresting is subjective, of course. Even "unnecessary" is. You do write just for your own amusement, right? Yes, that was sarcasm right there, because if you aren't, then some (many?) may not like your story.

The mundane makes the story live.

Yes, this is not a straight answer, but then sometimes it's the wrong question.


Pick travel scenes and locales that advance the plot.

For instance, I'm writing a screenplay that features a South American cruise. I skimp on scenes in the glitzy places like Rio de Janeiro Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. On the other hand, I have major scenes in out of the way places like Puerto Madryn, Argentina (one character thinks that visiting this place is "trivial," but it is highly important to two others), the Straits of Magellan (the hero gets seasick), and the "funicular" in Valparaiso, Chile, (a romantic spot where the hero and heroine make up)


Here's an example of how this can be handled:

The journey took three, long, weary days, and when they finally reached the city, the sun was about to disappear below the horizon. Hoping they were in time, they hurried through the wide streets and narrow alleys, until they reached a large building. A sign, hanging on the wall, read:


Mikael pushed the door open and stepped in, followed by James. As soon as they had stepped in a warm flow of air engulfed them, and they headed towards the Inkeeper. He was a tall, hairy man who towered over them menacingly, his eyes darting to and fro as he cast dubious glances across the empty inn. As the two men approached, he kept his eyes on them hungrily.

"You need a room?"

Mikael spoke first. "Yes, please. We'll be sharing it together, so you can keep it as the price for one."

The Inkeeper shook his head. "I'm sorry, sire, but we make our prices depending on the number of people, not rooms. It will be twenty-five for each person."

Mikael sighed, and produced the required money from his pouch.

"There," he said.

The Inkeeper pointed a bony finger to a set of steps in the corner of the room. "The second door at the left. There's no keys, so you'll have to do with that."

They walked up the staircase and emerged into a large corridor, with a set of doors on each side. The door to their room was weakened by years of carelessness, and it creaked when they pushed it open. The room was plain, with two beds laid carefully on both sides. Apart from the beds, the chamber was empty.

James' face fell.

"Well, at least the door will creak if someone tries to intrude at night," Mikael said, seeing James' face.

James scowled. "There's no one in this Inn anyways."

Mikael chuckled, and dropped his bag on the floor. He sat down on the bed, surprised at how tough it was.

"Don't complain," Mikael said cheerily, "we'll be leaving for Teans soon. The dragons will make sure of that."

James managed a smile, but it fell quickly.

"The beds! They could be rocks!" he moaned, rocking crazily on one of the mattresses.

"Stop acting like a child and sleep," Mikael ordered.

James scowled again. "We didn't even have supper."

The next day, James opened his eyes and was surprised to see Mikael stuffing his clothes into his bag hurriedly.

"What are you doing?" James asked sleepily. "Do you realise that I've worked hours just for unpacking this mess?"

Mikael turned to face him. "Get up. We've got no time. Grab all you need annd we're leaving."


"Just do it."

James sprang from his bed. He was feeling tired as he pulled on his clothes and grabbed his sack.

"What now?"

Mikael pulled the door open and stepped out. James went after him, feeling angry and tired after his forced awakening.

The Inkeeper was there, frowning at them.

"You're leaving?"

Mikael strode past him and stormed out of the door. The Inkeeper gazed at James questioningly.

James shrugged. "Don't ask me," he said, and headed out of the door.

The second journey was longer than the first. They crossed the Areon River with much efforts, only to find a new challenge awaiting them on the other side. The Fortis Range towered over them like a huge, fire-breathing dragon. James felt exhausted after several days of hard climbing through the harsh weather. But he soon realised that the climbing had been child's play. Now they had to make their way down the snowy slope, against the north wind and the danger of prowling wolves.

On the other side, the city of Teans lay surrounded by blood-thirsty dragons.

Not friendly ones like Oneaon, but terrifying, seven clawed ones. Even Mikael's genius seemed no match for the hungry dragons, and James feared they would meet a roasted end. But he kept his thoughts to himself, and followed Mikael across the snowy slope.

On the fourth day, Teans was in sight. A careful look around the snowy peaks proved the rumors true: huge dragons could be seen shooting across the sky in a frenzy of claws and fire. They circled the city, and James felt fear prick through him.

There was still some way left down the slope that led to the city, and they crossed it fairly quickly. Soon they stood under the walls of the city. James kept casting glances around himself, hoping the city walls would open and engulf him before the dragons did. Mikael was calm as he called out to the inhabitants.

There was no answer.

Mikael shouted again. His voice rang out across the snowscape.

Suddenly, a heart-wrenching shriek achoed across the land. James turned around just in time to see a huge dragon sweeping low to attack him. He stared, too scared to move, at the dragon's jaws as they flew open and sped towards him.

Hope it helped. My point is that you should write some things about the time spent in Inns, and when you're writing down the travel scene, then just make a rough account of it eg: the time it took, the atmosphere: in this essay, the characters have to reach Teans before it is destroyed by dragons. You should mention the objective at least once. If something vital to the storyline takes place, then you should write it down with as much description as possible. I really hoped that helped. I know my essay was pretty rough and speedy, but the point here is about the traveling(though I did include a lot of scenes where the characters aren't moving).


Follow your instincts. If something is boring you, then absolutely don't waste your time writing about it. I have found that travel scenes are ideal for side plot developments; so, what I tend to do is leave that section blank until I can use it later. Don't be afraid to do that. Insert a simple (character travels from point a to point b here), and skip to the main story line. You'll know later what can go there.

  • This comment in underrated. While this is not an ideal solution, it is a GREAT place to begin, if this is your first novel. After finishing your first novel, you will gain a much deeper understanding of how to utilize your scenes better so you aren't leaving empty gaps.
    – SirenKing
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 0:11

I use points in the travel scenes for character development, and skip the rest with a sentence. "It was a two day walk before they got to the travel barge headed down the Black River."

Then one of the characters lies her ass off making friends with the captain, not to get a cheaper price or get any information, just to make him like her.

Things can happen in inns, shops, taverns and stables that reveal character traits important elsewhere: Somebody is quick to anger or violence, somebody is a casual thief, somebody is flirtatious or even promiscuous, whatever.

Life happens during travel. It would be rather surprising if two people travel together for seven days and absolutely nothing changed in how much they knew of each other, trusted each other, or felt for each other (for good or ill), or how much they had thought of their situation and felt about THAT. Unless they are in suspended animation, that seems both unrealistic, and under-imagined.


When writing traveling scenes, I often think of bickering couples. I like my characters to have a friendly argument about something completely silly, and take it too far, than make up. However, I also believe that every scene should contribute to the story as a whole, even something as simple as character development, if such a thing could be called simple. I sometimes add a little scene, like maybe picking up something off the side of a path, to be used in a later battle. This works well when there is tension in the scene, as if they either fully know, or at least expect to face some enemy, and they want all the help they can get.

Sometimes having your characters get hurt on the way works, but I don't suggest this. Yes, every scene should contribute something, but on different scales depending on the importance of said scene. The best way to think of it is as if you're on a long journey, nothing is happening, and nothing will happen for a while yet. What do you do? I often read, but this isn't very entertaining, unless the character learns something valuable from the text. I also sleep. Again, BORING. What next... Strike up a conversation with your partner!

As I stated earlier, I enjoy comedic arguments over trivial topics, but this may not be a good option if this scene is soon after some traumatic event, and characters are grieving, or in shock. If this is the case, I would have them try to talk to each other in a more sombre manner, respecting those they may or may not have lost, recounting fond memories, or comforting each other. I believe this covers quite a few scenarios you might need help with.

But remember, if it doesn't contribute something to the overall story, it might just be best to leave it out. But that's just my opinion! Hope this helps!

  • Welcome to writing.SE, Arrondil! Please take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're helpful. I've edited your answer a little - with no paragraph brakes, it was hard to read. If you feel I've done your post a disservice, feel free to edit further. Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 6:06

While there is something to be said for cutting the travel if it doesn't add to the plot, instant travel makes the world feel small. If you want to paint a large world, you need to pay the price for getting from A to B.

As an alternative, you can take inspiration from stories that are entirely contained within a journey. Stories like Murder on the Orient Express, Stand by Me, Titanic or even Snakes on a Plane.

The key to these stories is not that stuff has to happen to the characters to make things interesting, but the constraints and the tedium of travel drives them together, and forces character development. A train or a plane is fantastic, of course, because you're putting everybody in one small box, and even the simplest activity becomes a challenge and therefore more interesting. But even if the journey is by foot, or bike or car:

  • Your characters are stuck with each other. Breaking away from the group is very dramatic thing to do, and usually quite risky.
  • There's no communication with the outside world. Whatever happens between them, they have to sort it out.
  • There's a very clear direction to the story. They're going to X, and they're going to do Y when they get there. The longer you make the journey last, the more tension you build (if Y is promising to be dramatic). Or you can change all the character relations during the journey, so that the whole picture has changed when they arrive: A was going to to Vegas with B to stop C's marriage, but on the way realizes that he loves B instead, and ends up giving C away when her father doesn't show up.

Of course, if absolutely nothing happens, the whole thing will feel like a Star Trek bottle episode, so some things will have to happen. But in good travel stories, it's not these things themselves that are interesting, it's how the constraints of the journey force the consequences to play out. In Murder on the Orient Express, it's not the murder itself that is interesting (we don't even see it), it's how the fact that there's been a murder plays out: the passengers knowing one of them is the killer and Poirot exposing all the latent tension, while they're all trapped in a fast moving box, that's what makes the story interesting.

This is why the many magical beast attacks feel so tedious in your example; they're pointless action interludes after which everything continues. If instead you create a simple event that has consequences throughout the whole journey (somebody faints, but they can't leave them behind, there's a stowaway, the car turns out to be stolen, x finds out that y cheated on him, but they're stuck together) you only need a small event to generate a lot more interesting drama.

Translating this to your setting, some tricks to employ to make a long journey intersting:

  • Make sure something interesting is going to happen when the characters arrive.
  • Build some latent tension into the character relations before the set off.
  • Have something relatively insignificant happen that normally would be easily resolved, but because of the specifics of the journey massively complicates things.
  • Make either the event or the consequences related to the larger plot. A large wolf stalking the troupe may be interesting but distracts from the whole point of the journey, making the reader forget about the payoff you're supposed to be building up.
  • Avoid things that remove the constraints of the journey. Don't stop the train. Don't let the troupe stay in villages, don't let them easily send messages back home. Make small things challenging and show us how they cope with the challenges.

I've also had this problem. I think it stems from putting the cart before the horse --you're trying to start with the journey, and shoehorning in the character development. Instead, decide what situations you need for character development, and build the journey around that. For instance, let's say you need your characters to develop a physical attraction to each other. So you want them to be in a tightly confined space. But you don't want them to act on this attraction, so you want that confined space to be very public. That leads you to invent a crowded railway car. To make the situation even more acute, the railway car gets stopped on the tracks for a long time. But, why? The repressive government is conducting a search? There's a dragon building a nest on the tracks? Two trains ran into each other?

In this way, you build an interesting and compelling set of situations along the journey that "just happen" to be EXACTLY what you need for maximum character development. Then, just elide any other parts of the journey. For instance, in the movie Y Tu Mama Tambien, 90% of the movie takes place on the outward journey, because that's where the character conflicts happen. The return journey is dismissed in 10 seconds worth of voiceover.

The important thing to remember is that things happen in your book because you make them happen. Your characters aren't taking a trip the way you or I take a trip, just to get from place to place. They are taking a trip that exists mainly to create interesting situations for them to live through. If you can't find interesting things to happen on the trip, you're wasting a prime writer's opportunity. I recently watched a mini-doc on how Stephen King created "The Body", the novella that was made into the classic coming-of-age movie Stand By Me. He had been wanting to write about kids like the friends he grew up with, but he couldn't find an angle, until he came up with the idea of inventing a reason for them to be going on a journey together, but without any adults along. After that, he had a compelling narrative thread to hang all the specific incidents on. Then, part of what made the movie work is that the writers were able to easily add in their own experiences to the existing structure --conversations they had, games they played, fears and challenges they faced, and so forth.

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