Fielding demonstrates how journeys can make a plot.

On Friday afternoon the reading group said goodbye to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.  The narrator has been a remarkably good host: fun, informative and welcoming. I’m feeling a little lost, a little disorientated, now that I’ve got both feet firmly planted in the present.

But I’ve learned a lot.  Putting aside the insights this novel has given about English History and life in the Eighteenth Century, Fielding’s management of cast and content was, to use a cliché, masterly.

For a reading group, there’s masses to think and talk about.  Writer’s might like to look at some of the techniques he employs.  I want to draw your attention to the way Tom’s journey provides structure.

brown_last_of_england- Ford Madox BrownRoad-stories are a tradition that can be traced back through literary history.  Think, The Odyssey, jump forward to  Don Quixote, and then further forward, Three men in a Boat, The Remains of the Day, or even more recently, The Hundred-Year-Old Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared.  And then there are the fantasy novels, just think about how many of those are based on journeys…

When characters have to move from one geographical location to another some of those important five Ws are instantly set in place:

  • Where from and to?
  • Why?
  • How?

Once you’ve set your character a reason for travelling, and a definite goal, you’ll need to figure out two more of those Ws: when & what will happen along the way?  The possibilities are endless.

And the great thing about journeys is that long or short fiction can put them to effective use.


*Painting, The Last of England, by Ford Madox Brown




4 thoughts on “Fielding demonstrates how journeys can make a plot.

  1. I thought it was Kipling, but Wikipedia says it’s Hermagoras of Temnos about 100 BC, who did the five W and one H business – but thanks Cath for reminding me of Kipling’s poem. As far as journeys are concerned it’s often said that it’s the travelling that’s more important than the arriving (and we all knew that Tom and Sophia would get together at the end, didn’t we?) and during the travelling lots of exciting and unlikely things can be made to happen. What fun. As you say, both long and short fiction can benefit.
    (Cath, how obvious is it that I am using the act of responding to your post as a displacement activity – I haven’t really conquered procrastination at all have I?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • But you’re writing Mike, so perhaps instead of viewing this as procrastination you should see it as a loosening up, a first move towards the writing you thought you were displacing?


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