Smart car 10 AUTOpsy

Fiction about cars fascinates me. When drafting my novel, many of the scenes I’ve enjoyed most have taken place within automobiles; some dynamic exists in those moments (the occupants can’t avoid each other, there’s a shared destination, a finite amout of time to kill, and limited options for distraction) that make them ripe for meaningful conversations. I’ve also used car ownership within the novel to reveal character — Coach Dan’s sedan (beat up and durable), Double-J’s coupe (flashy and loud), Jimmy’s van (creaky and utilitarian), the Hutchinson’s Cadillac (large and stately). Occurs to me that somebody needs a pick-up; maybe Butch’s family.
Thoughts such as these make me curious about other uses for cars in fiction, and that curiosity is in part what leads me today to Doug Hawley’s recent story on Nugget Tales. This isn’t a conversation within a car, but a conversation with a car, and an engaging parody of artificial intelligence and the “smart car” concept. I seriously doubt there will be communicative cars in my novel, but it’s an idea I may pursue in a short work such as this. 

Returning to the start without starting over

Corngoblin and I share an interest in writing about the craft of writing, what I call metawriting. I’ve also found that my metawriting posts tend to elicit more likes and comments than almost any other type of writing I upload. This has surprised me, as I’d assume most readers would find such posts self-indulgent and distracting; they are, however, also very honest and revealing, so that might be why they’ve generated such interest. So, since Corngoblin has just posted an interesting work of metawriting, I’m interested to see what happens if I use that essay to reflect on the novel I’ve been drafting.

Corngoblin’s essay discusses the strategic importance of beginnings; while it doesn’t say much that’s terribly original, it is entertaining for his distinctively absurdist, self-deprecating humor:

When you’re planning the beginning of the story, your job is the same job you have when you break out a board game for your friends to play: you need to make sure all of the pieces are on the board. Some games are really complicated, though. They’ve got a lot of pieces, but you really want to play, so you need to make sure you get all the pieces down as quickly as possible, or your friends are going to get bored and go do drugs or something instead.

I get the feeling they don’t play much Parcheesi at the Corn-Man’s parties.

This metaphor has me thinking about Chapter One — how well do I lay my pieces on the gameboard before my reader? The decision to begin with a demonstration fencing bout was certainly strategic; when Coach Dan explains the rules and terminology of the sport to the Bark Bay High School student body, I’m effectively saying to my reader, Here’s everything you need to know about fencing. I also introduce all seven of the principal characters — distinguishing physical characteristics (Annie’s pony-tail, Rex’s height), vocal patterns and tag phrases (Coach Dan’s my friend, Rune’s I dunno), personality (Double-J’s acerbic sarcasm, The Bird’s reticence, Butch’s awkward gentility). In my latest series of revisions, I focused on dialogue and character interactions; I believe those were correct decisions, but I’m now realizing that I have much work still to do with describing the town of Bark Bay, and establishing the tensions that will be developed in subsequent chapters.

To use the language of Corngoblin’s metaphor — I’ve chosen to place a fairly complex game in front of my readers, and while I’ve got the major pieces in place, there’s a few missing, lying within the box of my imagination. There’s more work for me to do before I consider this game reader to come out of beta testing. I just hope I get that work done before my readers start looking for the bong pipe.