Friday, April 3, 2015

Narrative Gaps: Vehicles and Movement

Remember narrative gaps? These are points in the story where something is left out—perhaps a character does something a second time that they never did a first time or a character remembers learning information that the author forgot to have them learn before. Narrative gaps are one of the primary reasons most authors have alpha and beta readers—because after you’ve gone through your own book a dozen times, it can be difficult to spot errors on your own.

There is one type of common narrative gap that you can look for on your own, however: gaps regarding vehicles.

For some reason, vehicles in stories attract narrative gaps like a shiny clean car attracts bird droppings. They usually go something like this:

     “I think this is the place,” Afonso said, pointing out the window to a ramshackle nightclub.
     Graciana slowed the car enough to make out the small sign over the door. “Gaspar’s Place? Are you sure?”
     Afonso shrugged. “It’s the only club we’ve seen in the area. We might as well check it out.”
     “I guess,” Graciana said. “Just don’t wander off and leave me alone in there, okay?”
     “Deal,” Afonso said as they headed inside.

See the problem? Graciana and Afonso are in a car; he points out the window, she slows the car down, and then suddenly they’re headed into the club. Unless they’re driving the car through the door, that means they had to have stopped the car and gotten out at some point—but that point was never shown.

This might not seem like a problem; your readers are certainly intelligent enough to figure out that the characters are no longer in the car if they’re going into the club, after all. But most people picture the scene they’re reading in their mind, and there are few things as jarring for readers as having their image of the scene they’re reading suddenly violated. It will knock most readers solidly out of the story.

This rule applies even to someone who can literally teleport to place to place; you still need to inform your readers when your scene changes.
Another vehicle-related error occurs when characters move in ways that they should not be able to, usually because the author added something in at some point and forgot the scene was taking place in a vehicle:

     Graciana slowed the car as they passed the store. “Can we stop and buy those shoes I wanted?”
     “We’re kind of in a hurry, dear,” Afonso said.
     “I’ll be quick, I promise. Please?”
     Afonso sighed. “Fine. Hurry.”
     “Thank you!” Graciana said with a laugh. She clapped, jumping up and down like a little girl.

Most people are much too large to jump up and down in a car, wouldn’t you say? Particularly when they’re driving.

The good thing about these errors is that they can be easier than most narrative gaps to track down. Simply look for any section of your story where your characters are in or on any sort of vehicle—from cars to bicycles to horses—and double-check for these errors. 

Note: These errors can occur with any sort of movement from one place to another or any sort of enclosed space. Don’t have your characters walking down the street and then suddenly have them talking to a shopkeeper in a store without having them first enter the store, and don't have your characters crouched in a three-foot high tunnel and then have someone start jumping.


  1. You have a point I never thought about. I guess my eyes simply gide over these parts filling in what is not there. Or maybe I am not really interested in the book. :)

  2. Great article. I hate reading books where these "movement changes" happen. What I hate the most is that my brain registers it as a time change vs. a movement change. If I have to go back and reread a sentence, paragraph, or (worse) an entire scene, the flow of the plot and the magic I felt when reading the story is ruined.

    Again, great article that points to something few new writers consider. Thanks!

  3. Never considered that sort of gap. And yet again, it shows why you need readers. Very easy to get "stuck" in your own world.

    You could also have a page break too, right? That seems like the best sort of emergency break if you can't think of a better way to explain the gap away.

    1. Yes. Page breaks/scene breaks are an excellent way to move characters from one place to another without having to list out the actions required to get there (which can be tedious). Just make sure you make it clear right away where the new scene is taking place.