I tripped over an old post over at Wyrdsmiths, about the idea of ‘plot’ as ‘car’.
It’s an approach that’s as open and vast as the road itself, giving strength to the metaphor of ‘the journey of life’. I pondered it for a while and then the whole train of thought derailed and went off road, over the ditches and into the weeds.
First there’s the car — SUV, sedan, or sports; new, used, or stolen — and then the conditions, hence situations, of the road itself.
Sealed and paved streets, primitively cobbled lanes, tree-lined boulevards, or dirt roads whose tracks turn to sucking mud when the wheel ruts fill with rainwater? The road should be a bit bumpy and winding, since a smooth and straight road can trigger highway hypnosis, resulting in a cruelly boring story. Does the road run through Big City, Suburbia, Small Town, or into the Rurals and then on into the Vast Wilderness? And let’s not forget closed roads, lost roads, private roads and detours.
The passengers — are they on the Grand Tour, a lowly milk run, or in flight from some fiendish peril, or the law, or personal responsibility?
Other drivers are a hazard. Their distractions have a wicked tendency to become your disasters, especially when they’re plagued with a lethal inability to keep their minds and their eyes on their own journeys. Poor things, they actually think they’re going somewhere, but they exist only to get in the way — the instant you’ve got past them they vanish from the face or the earth. Or in this case, from the story.
Along with the road to hell being paved with good intentions, there’s also the road map from hell. Outdated, stained, and faded — and completely useless when you’re off the map, altogether — it’s a labyrinthine accordion of paper that refuses to be properly refolded, thwarting all your efforts to maintain a veneer of civility. Just as bad is the pushy GPS, programmed by a sadistic lunatic, that devotedly drones on like a bored oracle too jaded to give a sincere damn about you, your journey or your destiny.
Hopefully the people living in my head will have the strength to resist the siren’s call of all the roadside attractions featuring the World’s Largest Ball of String and other such nonsense — but somehow I doubt it. They’re my figments, after all.
What else? Flat tires, blown gaskets, toll booths, hitch-hikers, homicidal tractor-trailers, closed bridges, squabbles over which exit to take and why, the petty bickering coming from the back seat — which will always have at least one backseat driver — and the inevitable cries for bladder-induced pit-stops. Periodic halts for meals and sleep, when exhaustion overtakes driver and passengers alike — oh, yeah, and the psychotically escalating cost of fuel which presents the very real dangers of running of gas, such as being stranded in the wilderness — at night — or in an unfriendly town.
Since I don’t like the presence of dead-weights in my stories, this is when I tell my characters to get out and push.