Veronique Darwin

Setting in Cars

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on May 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I read that you shouldn’t write scenes in cars. It’s possible that every chapter of my book has a car scene, so I’m not doing great.

Now that I’ve become aware of this problem, I’ve been forced to explore ways of making car scenes more exciting, and also forced to explore ways of justifying the use of car scenes. This piece of advice did nothing more for me than present an odd sort of challenge. Oh yeah? I said.

The purpose of car scenes matches the purpose of all scenes: they are meant to move a story along. Even if this means I’m a slave to obvious metaphors, I find car scenes essential for the basic reason that they move my characters from one spot to another.

Cars shift us in space, and this shift often brings with it a shift in the mind, and in the heart. My characters make decisions at the last minute, when they’re being propelled from one situation into the next. They experience the strongest emotion when they are in limbo.

Car scenes even mimic the driving theme of my novel. Jillian just graduated from university with a PhD. After 30 years in school, she has to find a way to deal with this landslide into real life. Driving used to be her escape. She and her sister dropped out of high school and drove around the country for two years. Jillian’s old car just broke down. She is being driven everywhere.

Besides the car’s function as a mode of transportation, cars are small, enclosed places where characters are forced to communicate with each other. What if a cab driver’s listening? What if someone’s hungry? Try rewriting those scenes in an open field.

Most importantly, Jillian in the passenger seat of a car is where I feel most comfortable with her. She is being driven somewhere she usually doesn’t want to go. She is being driven too fast, or too slow. She looks forward, or out the window. She gives bad directions under her breath.

The car scenes that exist in my book are numerous, but they are all there for a reason. I embrace the idea of a car scene as a thematic necessity to my book. Maybe if I wrote your book, I wouldn’t need any of these. Maybe I would need train scenes. Until then, I’ll keep justifying, and working on them, making them more elaborate and convincing, until my whole book is an existential one that takes place on the roofs of two moving cars.



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