Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Last week my husband, son and I set out in a loaded-up car for Scottsdale. We’re no amateurs when it comes to long driving trips, having successfully maneuvered roundtrip tours such as Maryland to Texas, Maryland to Toronto--circling back via Missouri, and Baltimore to northwest Massachusetts. We each have a different perspective on what makes a driving trip successful—photo ops (husband), paper and pen (me), and iTunes (son).

Originally we had planned on taking the fastest route, but as the trip got closer, it seemed a shame to miss out on the more scenic, albeit longer, drive. On the way there, we took the northern route up through Oklahoma City and across Route 40 (Historic Route 66). Several pit stops had us lunching in a real Texas landmark, The Big Texan steakhouse, and hiking (yes, me!) through the Badlands of the Petrified Forest.

It just so happens that my current WIP follows Aunt Greer, a vivacious has-been actress on the run from the law, and her recently widowed niece, also named Greer, on a cross-country cemetery trek along Route 40 as well. Pamela recently blogged about the importance of setting. Before I’d seen Route 40, I had only Google Maps to lead the way. Young Greer was getting bored with the view and asked her aunt to detour through Colorado. I’d seen the Garden of the Gods, a stunning backdrop for any novel. But now that I’ve seen the far-from-boring cakey mesas and painted deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, I have fuel to write the scenes in the Greer ladies’ driving trip.

As we left Scottsdale at 5 a.m. and traveled south on Route 10, a glorious view appeared over the Mexican border. Craggy mountains under a rose and turquoise swirl of sky had me trying to write the scene in my head. I was driving, so I couldn’t reach for paper and pen, but I was doing my best to remember it. (I haven’t done it justice.) The photographer in my husband reached for his camera (not perfect, but hey, we were in a moving car) and that’s when it hit me: we’re just artists trying to capture the world in our own way.

So it is with characters. Aunt Greer the actress drags her niece to theaters she’d performed in, while young Greer, grieving mother, is focused on the ages of the cemetery inhabitants. Not only do we need to capture the setting, but we need to show it from the character's perspective.

Side note: Sarah Laurence combines two talents, writer and photographer. You should check out her work.

What's your perspective?

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