Anyways, I noticed a recurring metaphor (or fragments thereof), and thought that I'd unpack it here.
It's called The Road Trip.
When I was 11 years old, my father packed 5 of us in the car and we drove from Prince George, BC, all the way down to Florida, and then back up again. This is the origin of my Road Trip metaphor, and shortly you will see how it applies to novel writing.
This big adventure is a novel. This trip is significantly different than your big adventure to the local shopping mall. Yes, you can have a big adventure in a shopping mall, but one would assume that you aren't going to have a lot of stops on the way to the shopping mall - that's the point of a mall, everything is under one roof! Your trip to the mall is probably a short story. One destination on the to-do list, and even if other things happen, when you tell the story of your trip to the shopping mall, your audience expects your story to be focused on what happened at the mall. If your story contains the amazing account of being chased by a giant rhinoceros while crossing the parking lot, then this should be your rhinoceros story, not your trip to the mall story...
Your novel should be the big road trip. Yes, you have a destination in mind, but, as my above map tells me, even if driving all in one go, it takes well more than 24 hours to get from my point A to point B. As a human being, you're going to have to stop somewhere. These, my friends, are the scenes that will fuel your chapters.
Now, let's imagine that you are writing this as an author who wants to retain some form of convention - meaning that you aren't out to re-define what "the novel" is. So, as a more conventional author, you will conduct your road trip with certain conventions as well: you'll map out where you're going, how to get there, budgeting of course for gas mileage, hotel stays, eating out, and whatever attractions you plan to visit.
Every author does this part to some extent, and even the omission of some of these points can be very telling about an author. This is also where I see new writers getting lost. The soul-searching road trip is all wonderful and ideal, until you realize that both you and your car need to refuel at some point, and if you haven't banked for that, your trip might not take you to the destination you were hoping to reach. Planning helps you prioritize. And authors need to prioritize!
Example One: "Look at that rock! Look at that stick!"
I've worked with writers who believe that every step of their big road trip is equally impressive and must be focused on. These writers tend to stick to chronological order, single perspectives, and account for every single moment in their main character's life. The Tristiam Shandy of road trips without the hilarious tangents. As a reader, you become bombarded with a litany of character names, every single person that the MC has ever spoken to or passed on the street. You encounter scenes with redundant dialogue because everything has to happen in real time, and therefore, everything we have just seen has to be re-explained to the other characters who weren't there to witness it.
If we were to conduct my father's big road trip with this type of prioritization, we would have stopped the car at every store, gas station, home, scenic view, and possibly even every time another car approached, honking aggressively so that we could all pull over together and introduce ourselves to everyone we share the road with. With this kind of planning, we might as well just go to the mall, it'll take us 3 days just to get that far.
Not only is making every single object you encounter a stop-and-see event just adding hours into your trip, and thus making it needlessly lengthy for your audience to read, but you're actually undervaluing those amazing stops. You can't be equally excited about every stick on the side of the road as you are about Disney World. If your character is, it's telling your reader that your whole journey to point B wasn't actually all that important to begin with. If that's the case, you might want to revisit your SWBS chart and look at what it is your character really wants. If it's just to collect sticks, well then, he doesn't have to travel three weeks to Florida to have that adventure.
Example Two: "Super Car, Brought to You By Magic"
Then there's the writers who really don't like pit stops - at all! They force their characters to drive all night, or else somehow teleport, eyes fixed on the road, and only the road so that they arrive at point B. I know that we all think it's stupid that Frodo doesn't just hop on an Eagle and dump the One Ring into the volcano at Mordor, but then we would have no reason to ever interact with such a wonderful array of characters, Boromir wouldn't have his badass death, Aragorn wouldn't be king, and Samwise wouldn't have the most heart-wrenching heroic bromance in the history of bromance! But some authors don't like the extra effort of planning pit stops, so they skip them altogether. Big red flag! Not only does it make the author look lazy and unimaginative, but it disappoints your reader. Can you imagine the SWBS chart? I can, and it horrifies me!
Frodo - Wants to destroy the ring - So he goes to Mordor and destroys it.
No But, he just does it.
Please, please, please don't be this person!!! I beg you!
It's great that you want to write a story about *insert event here*, but you need those pit stops. It's the pit stops that allow your characters to face those obstacles. A flat tire. They hit a deer. They run out of gas. Uncle Frank has nasty farts so everyone has to let the car air out for 3 hours before they all suffocate and die! Let your audience feel the anticipation of the journey ahead. What's waiting for them at the end? What's at stake if they don't make it? Does your character have doubts about being able to make it? Plan these stops! Slow us down to get to know your characters, and I don't mean in a long-winded introductory chapter. Let us see your character in action so that by the time he reaches that point B climax, we're right there in the car with him!
Yes, the road trip is not an easy endeavour. In fact, this is where most writers stop before they even begin. Budding authors turn away because they don't feel like they can lead their MC along the whole journey.
This is why I spent so long emphasizing the SWBS chart. The chart is your road map! Or at least, it's the pencil marks you lay down before solidifying your route.
So if ever you hear or see me giving a critique note that says "why is this a pit stop?" or "I think you should pull the car over here," this is what I'm talking about. There's either something worth getting out and seeing, or we're spending too much time on the side of the road looking at useless crap in the parking lot when the Grand Canyon is sitting right in front of us!