In a blog post on the Second Wind Publishing blog, author Paul Mohrbacher wrote: “At a writing workshop two years ago I heard this advice: Don’t spend time driving from one place to another in your fictional story. All you can do in a moving car is talk, talk, talk, or if you’re alone, think, think, think. It slows your story down. There is no room in a transit narrative for action. Get off the bus!” (Click here to read the rest of the article.)
This is actually good advice, and yet there are many novels that take place on a trip — on trains mostly, which makes sense. A train trip is leisurely, which gives plenty of scope for both character and plot development, and is much more romantic than a bus ride.
I wrote an entire suspense novel that takes place on a small bus, one that was big enough to fit eight people (because that’s how many characters I had!). In Daughter Am I, my characters are going cross country to find out who Mary’s grandparents were, why someone wanted them dead, and why her father had disowned them. Much of the story is “story time” — the characters telling about their past, and it is in these stories that Mary finds the truth. Of course, they do get off the bus occasionally, but emotion and connection are part of the “action” of a story, so as long as they are present, it’s okay for characters to stay on the bus. Also, in Daughter Am I, the drive makes it seem as if the story itself is going somewhere, not just the characters. Each leg of the trip carries with it the hope of finding the end of the quest, and instead turns them in a different direction. Literally.
Two of my other novels also involve lengthy trips. In More Deaths Than One, Bob travels halfway around the world on a quest to find out the truth about himself, and in A Spark of Heavenly Fire,, world-famous actor Jeremy King travels to the ends of Colorado in a quest to save himself from the disease that ravaged the state and the quarantine that was supposed to keep the epidemic controlled. During each of these journeys, the characters learned more about themselves or we learned more about them and their quest, so the journeys were important to the plot.
Sometimes, though, a trip was just a place to get the characters from one place to another, in which case, I skipped any narration about the trip, merely saying they are going to a specific place and picking up the story again when they arrive.
And sometimes (though never in my stories) there is a lengthy car chase. Car chases seem to fit more with the visual construct of a movie than with a written story, because viewers see the narrow escapes and so get involved, though such chases also find their way into novels. Either way, I find them boring. In fact, they put me to sleep.
So yes, get off the car, or bus, or train, or airplane . . . except when something important to the story is happening in the vehicle.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.