So, for those of you who don’t know, I spend a lot of the time on the road. Literally. I am obsessed with driving, even if I have to do it alone. Last year I did quite a few decent sized roadtrips. Over the year, notable trips were Fallon NV to Yosemite National Park to Las Vegas NV, Spearfish SD to Whitefish MT, Las Vegas NV to Albequerque NM (with 6 National Parks in between) and, of course, mine and my husband’s honeymoon road trip from Oslo, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Like I said, I like to drive.
The thing is, I also hate being idle. After two or three hours, sitting in the car starts to feel that way. Usually I rent the car in my name, so my husband shouldn’t drive even if I wanted him to. That leaves writing off the table.
What can I do that’s productive, then?
One one of those trips last year, I was outlining a new project and hadn’t quite gotten a firm grip on the characters. They were still two dimensional ideas of people in my head, but I was alone and I had eight hours of California/Nevada highway to go.
Instead of using voice to text on my phone (which honestly I hate), I came up with a weird idea.
The plus side of traveling alone is you start getting comfortable in your own head. It’s like a fantasy land in there for most writers anyway, but when you’re alone in the far corners of the country, it becomes livable.
I used the trip for character development.
It sounds weird. It feels weird to say that I pretended the made up people were with me in the car, but it helped iron some things out.
Hear me out, okay? I know I’m weird.
Many writers do character sketches before they start a project. Some who are artistically inclined actually draw their characters. Those of us who don’t enjoy drawing make bulleted lists, answer interview questions, and write up profiles. This road trip thing takes that a step farther.
Even if my characters never go on a road trip in the story, there are some key things you can learn about a person when you’re stuck in a car with them.
For example, if you go on a long drive with me across state lines – I’m going to stop for two things: coffee and scenic turnouts. Except for emergencies, that list is exclusive.
As I drove, I considered different possible reactions to things I was doing. Would this character react well to only having Doritos from the gas station for lunch, or would they sulk or have a fit? Would this character enjoy the 102 degree heat of Furnace Creek, NV in Death Valley? (I certainly believed I was going to die immediately upon touching the air.)
It actually worked.
After I started writing the book, I realized some of these things were coming out. That character who also hated the heat wound up trapped in a too-hot room and had a meltdown. Another character who didn’t like to be in the car for too long avoided going to an event over an hour away even though he really wanted to attend.
The things that came out weren’t big things, but they came out more authentic since I’d planned them out beforehand.
On another trip, I used this technique to go back and work on character development for a project I was revising. It helped that I was on the same road that character drove in that project, so I was able to process my own reactions to the drive and imagine hers. It made revising so much easier and more personal, because I felt like we’d been stuck in the car for ten hours together on a road trip.
Have you ever tried something like this? Inserting characters into things you’re doing to imagine how they’d handle the situation? Did it work? Share your ideas in the comments.