Yesterday, I wrote about Richard Matheson’s classic short story Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.
It got me thinking about journeys as a vehicle (sorry!) for a story. In his story, Matheson included tons of detail about the plane travel in the early ’60s. The claustrophobic feeling of the setting wasn’t accidental: it mirrored the character’s internal issues beautifully.
Today I’m inviting you to do something similar.
Take Your Character(s) On A Literal Journey
- Choose a mode of transportation that you can write about in detail. (Have a lot of time for research? Sure, write about Mary and Joseph on a donkey in Roman-occupied Palestine. Short on research time? Use the last trip you took as source material).
- Think about the mode of transportation you have chosen. Does it represent freedom or escape? Is it comfortable or torturous? Is it difficult or easy? (Horse back riding sounds like fun, but if your character is facing his third day on a horse in freezing drizzle and you have a different story!). Is your character driving or at the mercy of others (literally and figuratively?)
- What does your character want/need? How can you use a literal journey to pad out the significance of that?
- What changes in the middle of the story? Can you use the vehicle/travel to raise the stakes? If the bus breaks down or the horse bolts, or the passenger tempts the driver to break the speed limit what are the implications for the character? How can you make it worse? Don’t be afraid to go deeper/further/more whacky (you can always scale back in the revisions if it seems too crazy).
- In the end, does your character end up where he wanted to go? Literally? Figuratively? Did your character end up where they needed to be? Are those the same things?
- Think about the imagery and language you use (see yesterday’s Reading Room post, about how Richard Matheson chose his words to enhance the tone of the coming story).
- Write a quick first draft.
- Go back through the story and see if you can heighten the sense of place with different senses, different word choice. See if you can make things worse (or better) for your character.
- If you’re brave enough, post your story in the comments (but not if you’re planning on submitting it anywhere else).