I’ve spent a lot of time in other people’s cars – strangers’ cars in fact; no, I’m not a woman of the oldest profession (thanks for asking!) … But, when I commuted to the San Francisco Financial District in the 1980’s, the commute was an exercise in getting into strangers’ cars, and it has taught me something vital about writing.
The Bay Area Commuting lane offers cars with three riders a pass to zoom through the toll booth – free and fast. So, drivers stop at appointed spots to pick up people they don’t know, so driver and rider can benefit from the fast and free commute.
I’ve literally ridden in hundreds of cars. Flashback to a beautiful day in 1988. A luxury car worth more than three years of my salary pulls up, and I am next in line. I remember clearly the riders behind me eyeing my fortune with envy; especially because one could as easily end up with a pet-fur and to-go-trash infested car. The car was a light metallic-blue posh import sedan – sleek, comfortable, an open sunroof to a deep blue sky and a kind breeze, and Sinatra on a premier system louder than I could think. I remember thinking at the time that my day would be hard-pressed to top that ride. Truthfully, that ride is right up there as a perfect experience.
When I get into a book, I want the author to take me somewhere. I want to know as soon as I get in, that the inside is what it appears to be on the cover – a great ride. Once I’m in, I want to have my expectations met or exceeded that I will be richly chauffeured to the stops along the way.
In this way, the destination or great culmination of the plot is not the goal. If it were, we all would be glad to get out of a luxury car and go sit at our desk, because once the ride’s over, it’s over.
When our readers step into our books, they want to be chauffeured in a posh ride and take the long way. The key to a great book is that when your readers put the book down, they re-live that ride and those stops, until they can get into that car again.
When the climax to the story comes, imagine it as the time when each reader must exit that car and interact with the Chauffeur. For the author, this means creating and maintaining a posh and entertaining ride that doesn’t alienate at its climax (like a rude Chauffeur).
If you accomplish a posh, memorable ride your readers will sadly get out of your book at the end. They will long for the day a posh ride of a book pulled up, and go by another one of your titles.