Get off the bus! At a writing workshop two years ago I heard this advice: Don’t spend time driving from one place to another in your fictional story. All you can do in a moving car is talk, talk, talk, or if you’re alone, think, think, think. It slows your story down. There is no room in a transit narrative for action. Get off the bus!
Good advice? To me some great action takes place in cabs, where the passenger engages with a driver who’s an immigrant or recent arrival. Drivers takes you out of your experience when they get started on theirs. And if the cabbie is going to be a major character in your story, of course you’ll have conversations moving the story along as you move along in the cab.
In my life, some of the best characters I’ve ever met were riding in a bus. To meet a stranger in a bus and to meet him/her again the following week, and then again, well, that’s a terrific way to start a romance. As long as the reader senses a budding relationship on the bus is going somewhere, it has promise.
I think the advice is great, generally speaking. When I put two people a car, they talk. Nothing happens. They talk about what’s going to happen in an hour or on the next day, but the transit narrative itself is static, limited. Two people in a car can’t even face each other for any meaningful length of time. If they touch, it’s momentary. The reader knows the riders are looking out the windows at the scenery, avoiding collisions and performing other “been there, done that” activities. Readers put themselves in the story, and subconsciously assume the feelings of driving a car or riding the bus. We’re not taking readers out of their experience but letting them roost on one of their most familiar rituals.
Well, there’s always Jack Kerouac. Some writers can make the ride work.
Paul Mohrbacher is the author of “The Magic Fault.” He’s working on a second novel.