Monday, July 21, 2014

Discussion Post: Travel Montages and Why I Hate Them

If you read my blog regularly than you know one of the things I am constantly complaining about is travel montages. I'm a little behind on reading and I posted an extra review last week so I thought today instead of a book review, I would elaborate on why I hate this plot device so much.

The funny thing is I personally love travelling. I'm also a big fan of really cool and interesting world-building. Reading to me has always been a way explore a place or setting that I may not get to visit myself. It is also a sort of escape, a way to experience something outside of myself and my little corner of the world. The whole point of taking the reader on a physical trip is to allow the reader to explore the world a little more. And you would think that I would love that kind of thing, it's quite possibly my least favorite plot device.

I think it's because for me am extended travelling scene disrupts the flow of the plot. I don't know about you guys but when I was in school we learned about the structure of a story. You know what I'm talking about, the rising action, climax, falling action thing. It looked like mountain. For me, travel montages disrupt that structure. And while the characters are physically moving, the story is not progressing for me.

If it happens in the beginning...

This is the time I can handle a travel montage the most. I think maybe because it doesn't disrupt the structure as much. But if I say it had a slow start it's probably because of a travel montage. This is a common thing in a lot of fantasy stories, the character has to wander or get somewhere before anything interesting happens. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm all for exposition but if this is your way of setting things up you're going to lose me pretty quickly. There are better ways of explaining the world and establishing the characters place in it without taking them on a trip. If the beginning of your book is a travel montage than to me you're starting in the wrong place. 

Example: A Song of Ice and Fire (most notably Tyrion in A Dance with Dragons)

When it's in the middle...

It feels like filler. I understand that characters need to get from place to place but there is a big difference between a transition and a travel montage. If the entire middle of your book is just people walking through the wilderness with very little happening then you are being far to wordy and elaborate with your world-building. It almost feels like you're bragging, "let me take you through this interesting world that I made!" Plus for me any extended travel that happens in the middle of the book can ruin the perfectly good flow of a story. There's no consistent rising action, the plot just seems to plateau for awhile. Plus more often than not it just gets repetitive and dull.

Example: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein (specifically The Fellowship of the Ring)

If it happens at the end...

Then the plot comes to a screeching halt. This is without a doubt the time when I hate travel montages the most. A perfectly good story can be completely ruined by a period of nothing but travelling. I get it, falling action is part of the structure but if your falling action is a travel montage than I am not going to be entertained. This happens a lot in trilogies. The author will want to prolong something until the next book so they will use the falling action just to direct the story to that point but not get there yet. However, this is extremely frustrating to me as a reader. It almost feels to me like you're not particularly sure how to end things. 

Example: The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson

When it works...

In most books I roll my eyes and struggle through these travel montages but sometimes it's not that difficult. It takes a rare book, or a rare author's writing ability, for me to not hate that the characters are just travelling. The best example I can give for this is when specific plot points occur and the travel montage works to move the plot forward and not just the characters. Sometimes this means that the basis for the plot is traveling. It sounds counter intuitive but I can handle books that are all about travelling a lot better than books that just incorporate it at one stage (not always the case.. see Lord of the Rings). It may be because it's not like I'm waiting for something more interesting to happen. Or it may be because with these books the author is able to make the travel count for a little more plot wise.

Example: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

How do you feel about travel montages? Do they bother you as much as they bother me? Or do you like the opportunity to wander through a world? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. I think this is a really interesting post and discussion! Personally, I don't think I've read many travel montages, or if I have they didn't particuarly stand out to me. However, because I love travel and different settings, I normally like a change in scenery, but if it slows the plot a lot as you said then I'm not sure what my thoughts about it would be. I do love road trip books like Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson though, and it's the sort of book where the whole story involves travel in the plot. Maybe you'd enjoy that one? Great post!!

    1. Thanks! I'd say if you haven't noticed them too much then you probably don't mind travel montages. Because I'm not a fan I notice them a lot.

      I think maybe I'm more okay with travelling in Contemporary books than I am with it happening in Fantasy. In Fantasy it feels like a lazy way of world-building where as in Contemporary it's more about personal growth and exploration.

      I read a road trip book recently and I liked it but not as much as most people have. I have heard good things about Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and Morgan Matson so maybe I'll check that one out.