- A driver (and maybe a passenger or two)
- A destination
- A car
- A map
- A road trip sound track!
So, how do those translate into our story? Or, for the purposes of this example, my story? (My latest novel, AND THEN WE RAN, actually is a road trip story, which makes things a lot easier!)
The driver is our MAIN CHARACTER – the person who literally drives the story forward. Until you have your main character, how can you know where the story is headed? They’re the character that decides what sort of story you have on your hands, and where they want it to go.
Your main character can be anyone you like, but make sure you find them interesting. You might love them or hate them, or be suspicious of them even. But you have to be interested in who they are. If you’re not interested enough in them to follow them through a whole story, you can’t expect your readers to be either!
In AND THEN WE RAN, my main character is Megan. Megan is sixteen and determined to escape the future her parents have planned for her – by any means necessary. One of the things that interested me most about her is her determination – and her impulsiveness! Once Megan knows what she wants she’ll find a way to get it – however crazy her schemes might seem to others.
Your passengers are the other characters in your story. In Megan’s case, her literal passenger is her childhood friend, Elliott, who agrees to her craziest scheme yet and sets off on a road trip to Gretna Green with her.
When you start a road trip, it’s a good idea to have a destination in mind – otherwise, how will you know that you’ve reached it?
The same goes for stories. In a story, your destination is the main character’s GOAL. Ask yourself, what is this person trying to achieve? Or where are they trying to get to? And, bonus question, do they ever get there?
In Megan’s case, that’s easy. She wants to escape her parents and move to London to become a photographer. She knows where she’s going, she just doesn’t know how she’s going to get there. Yet.
Which leads neatly onto the next point:
Having a goal or end point in mind shapes a lot of your story. Ask yourself, what would my character do to get what they want? How far would they go? And what sort of obstacles might get in their way?
Once you start answering these questions, your story is already on the move.
The car, you see, is our PLOT. It’s how our characters get where they’re trying to go – or sometimes, to another place entirely. It’s up to you. It’s your story!
In AND THEN WE RAN the plot centres around Megan’s extreme scheme to escape to London. She is set to inherit a flat in the city when she turns 21, or when she gets married – whichever happens first. It’s the last part that gives her the idea to propose a marriage of convenience to her friend Elliott. They can run away to Gretna Green to get married – purely on paper, and just as friends, strictly no romance – so she can inherit the flat and they can both move to London. She can become a photographer, he can go to the university he wants but can’t afford on his own.
It’s a perfect plan. Almost.
Of course, no plan of Megan’s ever goes quite that smoothly, and the ensuing road trip is full of bumps in the road – including sheep, snowstorms, and caravans.
As for whether they ever make it to Gretna Green, or London, and whether they can keep their no romance rule, and if they really do get married… well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.
If your plot is how you move through the story, your map shows you the landscape your story is travelling through. In other words, it’s your SETTING.
Setting might not seem as important as the other things on this list but it can influence your story dramatically. In fact, much like a map, without it you’re left travelling nameless roads, unsure of where you are, or what story you’re really telling. For instance, a book about a woman who wants to find her lost child is a very different story if it’s set on a spaceship searching alien planets than if it’s set in the Yorkshire Dales.
The world around them influences your characters too, and shapes them into who they become. It can also throw up diversions and speed bumps in the road for your plot.
Setting plays an important role in AND THEN WE RAN – from St Evaline, the seaside town in Pembrokeshire that Megan and Elliott are both so desperate to escape, to Gretna Green, and all the difficult, troublesome, hundreds of miles in between.
ROAD TRIP SOUNDTRACK
Everyone knows a road trip is more fun with some great music to listen to, maybe even a theme song. Which is convenient, because in this analogy, our soundtrack is our THEME. It’s the thing that plays along in the background of every scene, tying the whole story together.
It often takes me quite a lot of writing to actually figure out my theme, but when I get it, and finally figure out what I’m trying to say with my story, I make sure to go back through every scene in the book to make sure it all fits with the theme.
In AND THEN WE RAN, the main theme running through the book is the importance of being yourself, rather than who other people want you to be. It’s a theme I come back to time and again in my books, because it’s something I consider really important.
So, think about what matters to you. What do you want to tell the world? That love can set you free? That you can’t trust anyone? That family matters more than anything? Your theme is your theme. So make sure you believe it, and then make sure your story believes it too. You don’t want to hammer it home too hard, but like a good soundtrack, it should always be playing in the background.
(And if you want to listen to the actual soundtrack I put together for AND THEN WE RAN, you can find it on my blog.)
And that’s it! Sure, there are lots of other components to a good story, but these five things will definitely get you started on your fiction road trip. And trust me, there’s no journey like it.