[Think Aloud] – #26 – Why Are Heroes & Villains Never Stuck in Traffic?

Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.  


Table Topic:
Why Are Heroes & Villains
Never Stuck in Traffic?


Fair representation of character struggles should involve travelling to a destination prior to the final boss fight.


Imagine this terrible example (in their voices):

Hermione: Harry, are you sure he said 7 o’clock?
Harry: Let me text him—
Hermione: Harry, you don’t have a—
Harry: *Accio Cellphone*

Ron: Cauldron cake, anyone?

Now look, I’m not speaking to the coincidental run-ins between the hero and the villain throughout the story. All those villainy monologues? Bearable. Those near-death escapes? Necessary. It’s everything right before the “final boss fight” where pacing is most magical.


Because without the manipulation of time (as it relates to the importance of event conflict), your heroes and villains would be stuck in the limbo of waiting for their commuter vehicles or stuck in perpetual gridlock. You laugh now…but realistically, you know it’s damn true. These characters would be on the highway all like:

Scene 1a: “Lol this traffic, am I right?” *everyone groans*

Scene 1b: “We’ll get there in 20…30 tops!” *said the hero an hour ago*

Scene 2: “Ask me ‘if we’re there yet’ one more time. I dare you” *you say while holding a dangerous weapon–* Damn, that took a rather dark turn.

I’m not even going to provide an example of the abundance of stories that don’t even feature automobiles where characters have to walk to their destination.


But you know what the flip side to all this is?

Timing isn’t some discrete concept you can just say “hey villain, we still on for 10pm tomorrow?”

To jump from A to B to C without a nod to these pockets of time—where you’re stuck in transit jamming to Top 40 songs or being that character asking the ageless “are we there yet?” questionis nonsense when you, as the reader, probably spend hours travelling everyday. Imagine if you miss the last flight for the night—yikes. 

This goes for both heroes and villains.

Now don’t me wrong: I’m not saying that readers would love to see characters stuck in traffic in a non road trip-centric story. Instead, I wonder why redundant moments of travel aren’t represented.

This doesn’t even include the amount of fucks up and obstructions that get in the way during travels. Frodo didn’t get to Mount Doom within a page. Heck, things were made hella worse after that “fly you fools” nonsense a la Gandalf. It ain’t rainbows, sunshines, and constantly fuel tanks. It’s traffic, life itself, and brick walls.

I call this: “The Bus Runs On Sunday, Right?”


Case in point: pacing is an unsung hero in fiction. A bunch of shit can happen travelling to that final boss fight; only we never really see it. 

But should we?

As a narrative tool, pacing is somewhere here and there; not about how fast or slow it is but rather featuring events for what they are as it reflects the value creation in the story being told.

There’s an argument that character development remains at the forefront of downtime and I’d expect the same from you (that’s you, reader) with your friends and family cooped up in a tiny metal box. You talk, you grow, and you become someone different than you were five minutes ago. Change is dynamic; it happens. If you choose to withhold these moments, can we really say we’ve witnessed the gradient of grey that stretches between black and white?

Don’t even get me started on villains or heroes waiting for the other party to show up. You can’t just show up 2 hours late, offer me Taco Bell, pretend everything is awesome, and then expect me to want to fight you. I’d be long gone and rolling around in my afternoon nap. We’d have to reschedule…

…unless you bring me Chipotle. Then I’m sure we can meet halfway. 

Afterthought Prompts:

Now on to some things for you to think about:

I’m curious: on average, how long do you spend commuting (all modes of transport inclusive)?

What’s your threshold toward waiting on someone who’s incredibly late? What if it was the villain/hero you were waiting for? Would you leave?

What are some books that feature intense levels of travelling that you may or may not have enjoyed?

And finally, what is your stance on heroes/villains being realistically stuck in traffic? (Not limited by genre–this can really apply anywhere).

As always, think aloud. 


connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads


Post Inspiration:

Rhetoric and satire. And das one discussion down for 2016, a billion more to go…



75 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #26 – Why Are Heroes & Villains Never Stuck in Traffic?”

  1. I spend 15 minutes commuting on a good day, and an hour on a bad day XD Today was horrible because Eglinton was one way XD 😥

    Um. 15 minutes late and I feel hurt. But really, it depends on what I’m doing 😛

    The Queen of Tearling had a lot of traveling… I didn’t particularly care

    I think a book about it would be funny, but I would not want it featured as a regular thing, tbh XD


  2. I spend at least 2 to 3 hours on commute everyday and this discussion resonates so much. Why isn’t transportation shown in books? For me being late is a pet peeve, I hate it when I do it and if someone does it to me, it’s aggravating and frustrating all at the same time. Yet I feel like the reason this mundane sort of thing that happens all the time like travel isn’t shown because it’ll slow down the action. Specially when you talk about fantasy books. They’re some that do it in a way where you still include action during the journey so it keeps the reader interested. Otherwise it’s as tedious as sitting in traffic for over an hour with nowhere to go: annoying and pointless


    1. I’m definitely not even asking for too much out of transportation haha. Perhaps vehicular traffic is more geared towards contemporaries than most fantasies (those seem to be a lot of walking which I wouldn’t want to read either).

      The books that have executed travel decently are usually those where the focus is on the “chasing/running away from something/someone” plotline — which some people dislike cause nothing really happens…? (I’m personally engrossed by a lot of those storylines LOL.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I used to think about this a lot. But the more I write, the more I realize it’s really really difficult to write a story where the character is mildly inconvenienced all the time. If there’s some kind of big problem, it becomes a plot point. But a little problem like traffic? It’s hard to make that interesting and it’s hard to make it feel relevant.

    I’ve also come to terms with the fact that, for the most part, fiction takes place in a universe different from our own. A universe where entropy is reversed, and everything is always moving toward order. Characters (usually villains) try as hard as they can to bring the world to chaos, but they cannot escape the fall to order that rules them. That’s why readers generally expect their favorite characters to survive and why we tend think the good guy should always save the day.


    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment!

      I think I may have prefaced, or rather leaned on, the “traffic” aspect too much as a means to get the superficial point across; which is ultimately being hindered by something or someone to get to a destination. The only times I’ve seen hindrances in travel done successfully (in any genre) is when the feeling of being chased or running away is the main intent — otherwise, yeah, I totally get why it’d be cumbersome to be stuck at most red lights.


  4. I’m just imagining Voldemort stuck in traffic right now. “Sorry Potter, can’t duel right now. Stuck in a massive crowd at Knockturn Alley. Can you maybe wait 30 minutes before you start killing Death Eaters?”

    I spend about 2-3 hours commuting each day. Those lucky heroes and villains… And after 5 minutes of waiting I’m like…>_>. 10 minutes and I’m like “are you kidding me?!” LOL


  5. So, technically I don’t commute right now unless you count the drive to my daughter’s school, which is about 15 minutes round trip twice a day. I used to commute about an hour and a half a day before that, depending on traffic heading to and from Seattle.
    The lateness thing…Ugh. I have a real problem with lateness. My dad is constantly late. It’s a thing with him. Therefore, I have to be early. It’s harder after having kids. Sometimes, we’re just running late. As for other people’s lateness, it drives me crazy. My best friend is always late. We used to tell her we were leaving an hour earlier than planned when we were younger. She’s gotten better, but it’s still irritating. My time (and everyone else’s) is worth something.
    As for the bookish stuff, not sure. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head!


  6. This was a great breakfast-read, thank you, Joey. I spend a little less than an hour commuting during the day. I have to say, if I’m a hero and the villain doesn’t show up (because I’ll be the hero, why be the villain when I can be the hero? now that’s an interesting question…) well, I would just, leave?! Imagine that, indeed, that would be funny, in a book, this kind of situation. But yes, I have to say, the long moments of travelling are rarely featured in books, and even if sometimes they are long, boring, NOT FUN at all, well sometimes authors could take advantage of this to create fun situations or interesting moments! 🙂


    1. That hero/villain choice is an interesting one indeed…definitely churns the brain of mine a bit!

      We take for granted the events just happening–unplanned–just conflict after conflict after conflict and then the book is done. But surely there’s more to it than that! Not always but sometimes?

      A lot of the “travelling” aspects of books are ones I’ve enjoyed the most; especially the ones where characters are being chased (that’s surely a popular trope!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting choice of topic! Since I live a little on the outskirts of Vienna, it takes me about an hour to get anywhere noteworthy. However, I do have the urge to always be early, which means usually about 15 minutes. It’s okay if I wait for others though, because of course no one has the same obsessive thinking about time as I do. I seriously get freaked out about being late, so I always plan plenty of buffer time, especially when I need to go somewhere I have never been to before. While I do have a drivers license, I usually just take public transport though, which works fine for me.
    I hate it when other people are super late, everything up to 15 minutes is okay, but I better hope they shoot me a nice apology text if they take more than that.
    I don’t know if I want heroes and villains to realistically be stuck in traffic. Don’t you think it would sort of put a damper on the dramatics of the story? I don’t know, I guess it depends on how the rest of the story is written. Sometimes it could definitely be interesting to read.


    1. I feel you. I try to be early and would rather have the inconvenience burdened on me rather than putting that on someone else (which is stupid to think about if the other party is the one that’s late).

      The intent I wrote this with features [contemporary] traffic but I guess I lacked clarity as to the hindrance/obstruction aspect. Like, you’re evading goons and stuff and you hit a dead end or you’re walking through a mountainous path only to find out there’s no way through and so you have to walk around — those kinds of events that stall you for time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Actually, my favorite scenes in some books are the times when two characters (or more) are stuck somewhere like traffic and they have time to really talk with one another. I’d argue that trapping two characters together is actually a common plot tool, but if the whole story is good, then who really cares about cliches anyways, right?


    1. You’re definitely right! A good conversation can add as much value to the narrative as [character] development can be seen in action/inaction. I think this goes back to plot versus character driven stories and how stories shift throughout the progression, and if highlighting a moment stuck at the red light is warranted, then why not!?


  9. My commute is generally twenty minutes each way and I think it would be hilarious to read scenes of travel in between destinations in books. It probably wouldn’t work for every scenario but an occasional place in the story couldn’t hurt.


    1. Hah, good to hear you’re open to the idea of being stuck on commute–like if the subway broke down during an impending post-apocalyptic calamity while you’re trying to get home to your family. An obstruction of sorts. This sounds pretty reasonable, right?


  10. This is a topic I never knew I NEEDED to read until I read it. So thanks for that, Joey. Really.
    I live in New York, so I’m constantly on the move, whether by the dreaded, musty subway or on the bus where being groped is inevitable. You’re right – commuting is such a big (sporadically interesting) part of our lives, so why is it almost never talked about in books? Come to think of it, some of my favorite moments in books are when the heroes are on their way to fight the Big Bad. Like in the first HP book, the trio have to ‘journey through’ several tests to get to the Big Bad. That was cool, am I rite.


    1. LOL I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed the read!

      You’re definitely right with the HP reference. Like it’s not really about being stuck in traffic, it’s more about being challenged by a naturally occurring obstacle than anything. In an example I used in another comment above, just imagine you being on a NYC bus and all hell breaks lose because–whoa, some baddie new face of government is like “imma build a wall around NYC” (not talking about ANYONE SPECIFICALLY OF COURSE…) and so you’re like “damn, how do I get home?” — that’s the intent I was going with and I’d imagine it’d be a whole lot of suck to reach your destination.


  11. LOL this is an awesome post Joey! You’ve got me thinking about all the books I’ve read about traffic and they’re few and far in between. I think they were travelling in Percy Jackson, the one where they’re heading to the Empire State Building ans everything goes wrong. And sometimes the waiting for the villain thing happens now frequently in movies or TV shows.


    1. There’s definitely a fine line between pointless waiting and waiting in lieu of the continual hero-and-villain dance of who can best the other and I’m glad that shows do feature, to some extent, that characters just don’t immediately pop up at place B when they need to be–that story happens en route.


  12. Or you could write a book about time travel and make time irrelevant….

    But in all seriousness, this is an excellent post that raises a lot of clever points. Mostly, as a writer, mundane things like travel, food, water, sleep, are all ignored or forgotten in the context of the narrative unless otherwise absolutely neccessary. It varies by genre – feasts in epic fantasy, or desperate water-searching in dystopian/post-apoc novels etc.

    I’m curious: on average, how long do you spend commuting (all modes of transport inclusive)? About 3 hours a day on public transport and/or walking.

    What’s your threshold toward waiting on someone who’s incredibly late? What if it was the villain/hero you were waiting for? Would you leave? 20 minutes without warning, up to an hour if they’ve told me they’ll be late, but I’d be cranky about it. If I was awaiting my nemesis, I’d spend the time preparing my deadly battle weapons…

    What are some books that feature intense levels of travelling that you may or may not have enjoyed? The epic fantasy travel times in Inheritance Cycle were pretty excellent, all things considered.

    And finally, what is your stance on heroes/villains being realistically stuck in traffic? (Not limited by genre–this can really apply anywhere). I think it would be hilarious in a comedy/spoof, but tbh, people read books for fast pacing, character development, battles, betrayals, and otherwise to find an escape from real life. I spend enough of my life on a bus, I don’t want to read about a character doing it. Novels are a way to escape real life, not to experience it all over again (at least, for me, and in the genres I read. I understand other genres like literary, memoir etc, are very, very different here. I’m talking YA fiction etc.)

    Excellent post Joey, love your work!


    1. Hindrances isn’t limited to traffic but that was just the intent I used for this post! What if CASSIE or SHAUN couldn’t timewalk (or whatever you’re calling it) and they end up missing the chance to save someone? That’s on them, yeah? Their limitations getting in the way of the bigger picture (totally patent pending this shit if you’re going to use it for book 2 LOL).

      Wtf Brett do you like travel from nowhereland to nowhereland? das a lot of time commuting.

      Okay but speaking to YA fiction, what of road-trippy contemporary fiction then? GOTTA STOP TO GET GAS? GOTTA STOP TO GET FOOD? GOTTA STOP FOR RED LIGHTS? I digress.


  13. The Incredibles comes to mind, first with them commandeering the rocket and then the parents arguing about how to get downtown to the final boss fight–brilliant use of travel precisely because it references the mundane-ness of commuting while using that to effect a reconciliation between Mr. and Mrs. I.

    It seems to me that heroes being realistically stuck in traffic at the climax is most effective when it’s preventing them from stopping the villain’s evil plan in time, rather than when they’re headed for some sort of showdown with the villain. MI: Ghost Protocol, for instance, where they’re stuck in traffic in India while the villain’s launching a nuclear warhead. There’s a hilarious scene in White Collar where one agent’s hybrid car reports she’s driving very inefficiently as she and Neal fight NYC traffic to catch the villain. Done right, it can build great tension, but actual ground-to-a-halt traffic, that I can’t see working except perhaps in a comedy, or earlier in the story when the stakes are lower.


    1. Though I don’t fully know all these references, it’s great to see transportation actively used in film media to push the story along! I think this calls for an Incredibles re-watch haha.

      But I agree that most of these traveling obstructions largely depends on which part of the story it’s taking place at, so it doesn’t break the [natural] flow of everything else that happens during that time.


  14. 1. 25 minutes to work, 35 back home. This is a huge improvement on my former commute of 45 minutes in the morning 60-90 coming home.
    2. I’m chronically late. I KNOW. You all have every reason to hate people like me. I have no excuses. Therefore I am permantly forbidden to ever resent someone else being late.
    3. I’m thinking of Passage to India, in which the Passage part set up all the action for the India part.
    4. Like others, I think that while it could be played for laughs, it’s not something I want to see very often.


    1. I feel like once you become late several times (especially for friends), people just start to sync their arrivals to your lateness LOL. I know these feels very well.

      But I’m glad you think that being obstructed by traffic or a delay would be hilarious! I’m making it my mission to find a scene like that in fiction now LOL.


  15. I usually spend a little over two hours of commuting daily from where I live to school. I’m envious of these villains/characters that have it so easy. -___- I am incredibly punctual (actually I like to be early) so I’m not that patient when others aren’t. So a 20 minute wait and then I leave. Sometimes this varies though if that person contacts me with a valid excuse. I get that emergencies and unexpected situations arise. As for books that have travel in them… On the top of my head, The Seven Professors of the Far North and Graceling. Both are books I don’t remember much from so I can’t say they was good or bad, haha. XD


    1. But you hit the nail on the [perhaps necessary] events of emergencies and unexpected situations. Like, you’d never know! What if Voldemort suddenly had diarrhea and needed to peace out of the final battle? WHO’S TO FAULT HIM?!

      Alas, I never thought you’d be one to bail if someone was late 20 minutes and there’s no word. You are interesting, Summer Says.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Traffic: YES, e.g.: villian puts city in danger, character drives to evil headquarters but is stuck in traffic and has to watch miserably as the city goes up in flames!

    Lateness: Waiting for the nemesis to arrive feels like the type of thing you’d find in cartoons as a joke. You’d put your evil plan into motion right away, of course. Or you’d set a trap, catch your nemesis, and yell: “THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR BEING LATE TO OUR ________”

    Commute: It takes me 15 minutes to walk to school, but I know it takes my mom about half an hour to drive to work, depending on the amount of traffic.

    Books with travelling in: I hated LOTR for that. Percy Jackson-ish stuff is pretty much a loop of “travel 10 feet fight something repeat,” which I am utterly tired of. Can’t think of anything else right now.


    1. That’d be hilarious, right? Traffic foiling heroes trying to foil villains. WOWOWOWOW.

      I’ve never read Percy Jackson (though I did, regrettably (or maybe not so) watch both films). And the “quest” vibes is definitely something that’s a hit or miss; especially when things just come so easy (see: no damn hippocampus for you, Percy, you gotta swim that length of sea).


  17. “You laugh now…but realistically, you know it’s damn true. ” I was laughing.
    Also, laughed at the, “You talk, you grow, and you become someone different than who you were five minutes ago.” This was excellent. This made my week. I’m glad I waited. This comment is going into two parts, I don’t want it to be too long.


  18. Depends on the day, if I make stops for food, if I change where I’m going, I’d say roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours. It depends.

    I’d leave. Also the afternoon nap 😂😂😂😂 Why are you so funny?


    If books had it like how you wrote it, I’d buy them all 😂😂😂

    Me this entire post:


  19. I just adore your discussion posts. At first, I’m usually a little dubious, snorting and smiling because this is funny, and then it kind of hits as me as brilliant (seriously, stop disillusioning me, Joey) and I have to say things.

    First, on a given school day this semester, I will be commuting to and from campus a total of about 3 hours. Add to that the 40-minute total commute to and from the gym three times a week, any hobby travel, moving between classes, even, and taking the dogs to the dog park, and I’m on a non-athletic movement schedule that’s kind of annoying.

    However, I think acknowledging travel in fiction is ridiculously important. Which may or may not have crept into #TheProject totally accidentally, because in it travel points and the intersection between protagonist and antagonist actually becomes a point of tension when the protagonists are late, and a point of success when they get somewhere first.

    Also, some characters don’t get stuck in traffic because they fly or teleport or whatever. Magic travel is a thing, after all.


    1. Sometimes I think no one understands what I have to say because it’s so ridiculous. I’m glad there are those out there who actually gives some care as to the faux realism in fiction. YEAH I WANT TO ESCAPE TO DREAM WORLD BUT IF TRAFFIC OR A BOULDER GETS IN M WAY OF GETTING IN THE VILLAINS WAY — WHO’S TO SAY IT’S NOT A POSSIBLE THINGGGGGGG?!!!

      Non-athletic movement is the only kind of movement I know…

      I think the importance of travelling really depends on the type of stories though. To be fair, there’s no point in a chapter about stopping in front of a red light with your buds in the car with you. I get that. But if you’re like passing by a convenience store, get bullied somehow/someway, and you drive home all emotional and shitty and whatever. Damn straight I better hope to see your journey home. Only I seem to find stories that are like–cut to black–Char A slams door entering home. LIKE WHAT WHERE DID THE TIME GO?!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Something very important could happen at that red light, though. Just imagine an inciting incident in which the bank robber crosses the street at that exact moment and our heroes jump out of the car to stop him–or better yet, he climbs into the car and threatens them :O


        That scene cut is so unnecessary! I want to see the anguish and how the character feels about the bullying. I want to see how the character deals with that–are they an angry driver? Do they mull and be distracted? Do they turn up the radio and try to distract themselves? Show me the processing!


  20. I just keep imagining Kaz Brekker being stuck in traffic/being stood waiting for someone. Blood would most likely be spilled if that was to happen.

    It all depends on where I’m commuting to but to get to my nearest town it takes about 15 minutes by car but if I need to go to the city, it takes about 2 hours.

    When it comes to waiting I can be quite impatient. I’m usually the first person to arrive and when I end up waiting an extra half an hour with no warning/acknowledgement from them my mood does tend to sour a bit, especially if I’m stood outside freezing.


    1. Kaz would be the type of person to do that…but I’ve a feeling that Kaz would also know that traffic was present and he’d make arrangements to be “on time” in lieu of it.

      You might have hit on a point there…maybe heroes have increased fervor to win their fights because they’re pissed at the villain showing up late (if they show up late) and the baddies all like “OH MAN DAT PIZZA WAS DELICIOUS..” LMAO.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I don’t spend a whole lot of time traveling (I’m a home body), but traveling to my main hubs takes about half an hour because ATLANTA TRAFFIC (*thousands of residents groan*). And honestly, if I were the good guy, I would wait a long time for the bad guy. Alternatively if I were the bad guy, I don’t know how long I’d wait. If either of these guys are planning an ambush, patience is kind of key, right?
    In the realistic sense, if these types of characters got stuck in traffic, I think it’d be comical. Life is funny. I think bringing other worldly characters, people who fight crime, down to our everyday mundane level, it would be hilarious. I just think of the Joker pressing the button at that hospital. The bombs don’t go off. Like in real life, there was a hiccup and he looked confused. And THEN IT DOES EXPLODE AND HE’S STARTLED AND LIKE “OH SHIT!” and that was a comedy moment! . As far as gritty story lines go, I think it’s just hilarious to see the characters experience normal life xD


    1. Wow you’re such a kind hero, waiting up for the villain like that LOL.

      But yes I do agree that moments (be it of conflict or growth) happening as a naturally occurring event is something that often gets overlooked. I don’t think you’d expect there to be some sort of delay (be it in traffic or enroute to a destination) but if it happens…can’t it just happened? Too much realism is definitely a turnoff though but I guess the point is that there’s glimpses of development that -can- happen during these kinds of downtime. Like what if the Dregs just went from Ketterdam to the Ice Court without being on that ship? That’d be such a missed opportunity because SO MUCH wonderful things happened then!


  22. 2 hours of commute, tops (though I’m living just 14 kilometers away from work). Don’t get me started on what a hassle traffic is in Manila!

    And once again, we’re graced with another hilarious post from Joey! But rich in sense, of course *wink* I like how your brilliant mind thought of highlighting something often regarded negligible. Traffic is omitted as a factor in a fight scene especially if it takes place within the metro oftentimes. In fact, it should be since it’s in the culture. Like they say, it’s only in the movies and books where you get a parking space so easily.


  23. Well, now I’ve got to add a traffic jam on the way to a final battle into one of my novels, haha
    I loathe traffic and try to avoid it as much as possible. It gives me serious road rage! As for waiting for people? Being an anxious person… I tend to wait and wait and wait and worry that they’ve been hurt or killed and then devolve into a mess of ‘they hate me’ ‘this was a joke’ thoughts. So yeah, don’t make me wait haha (I don’t make anyone wait without letting them know way ahead of time, so I guess I expect the same?)


  24. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on this post, Joey, because I assumed that everyone would just want to skip out on the traffic because it would be boring af to read about that. However, it’s cool that you’re uncouth post provoked a good amount of discussion on this, showing that you really can engineer commentary on a lot of things if you think about them in unique ways. I always just blast Ariana Grande when I’m in traffic (because it’d be problematic to text or read or do much else), and I wouldn’t mind forcing readers/viewers to listen to her with me. (: Keep writing!


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