Michaeline: Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Ships and Bicycles, Too

A history of transportation from reindeer through trains to the motorcar.

People may remain fundamentally the same, but as their technology changes, so does the form of their stories. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s an old writing adage that says every story is either about someone coming to town (the mysterious stranger!) or someone leaving town (a quest! a quest!). But sometimes, the story isn’t about the arrival or the departure, but the journey itself.

Summer is the perfect time to write a travel story! You could set your story on a plane, a train or an automobile. Being trapped in a small space for a period of time promotes a sense of desperation . . . but by virtue of being in a MOVING space, you know the story is going to end with a release (let’s hope, though, that release isn’t a fiery crash! Although, it’s summer! It certainly could be. Disaster stories are popular. Look at the Titanic, or books about people who survived a plane crash in the Andes.)

Let’s take a quick look at five common modes of transportation, and what they could bring to your story.

First, the plane. You’ve got planes of all shapes and sizes to choose from, and more than 100 years of aviation. But they all fly above the common worries and fears of ground-bound folks. They get there fast, and there really is no escape (except by parachute, death or magic) until the plane lands.

The Dream Bible says to dream of airplanes is to dream about goals and objectives, and getting projects “off the ground”. They also said it can be a dream about the journey to death, but I think that applies to every mode of transportation (and to be honest, every device we use in fiction can be turned into a metaphor about death, if you are willing to do the work). This is the element of air.

Ships, boats, ferries and barges – or even a humble canoe – are on water. Water can symbolize sexuality – and we’re floating on it, swimming in it, or drowning. Watercraft are slow vehicles, and often, there’s not a goal in mind. We take a boat ride for the pleasure of boating – it’s rare in this day and age to take a ship in order to get someplace, unless we’ve got heavy baggage or a fear of flying.

The Dream Bible says dreams about boats are dreams about coping with negative emotions or “navigating negativity”. A ship is about navigating these problems from a place of relative safety, it says, so I assume a little leaky canoe could host a story about two people navigating a relationship dangerously. This is the element of water.

Trains are full of romance. You’ve got your choice of countries or times . . . they are more modern than watercraft, but not as “now” as planes. Good, solid technology, and underlying any train story is going to be the rhythm of the rail (or the disturbing lack of clickety-clack when the train is stopped in some deserted area). You’ve got your beautiful dining cars, or your crappy subways to choose from. The journey might take days, or it might be over in three minutes. It’s a very adaptable setting. Tunnels are very sexual, and the dark vs. the light can be an exciting theme to explore.

The Dream Bible says to dream of trains is to dream of long-term projects and plans. And of course, missing a train means missing an important opportunity. You can also be on one train, and watch another going in the opposite direction, and sit and wonder about what that different track could lead to. Trains are the element of the earth – not just the ground it travels over, but the coal that powered old-fashioned steam engines.

Father washes the car while baby muddies it; a child and a wife are reading in the grass nearby.

The 20th century is full of automobile stories; the 21st century is sure to bring interesting ideas as self-driving cars become a thing. It’s going to change our world. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The automobile is the most versatile mode of transportation. Your driver will take charge of his or her destiny, stop or start (mostly) when s/he wants, and s/he will decide the length of the journey. Of course, the unforeseen hand of destiny also plays a hand much more in car stories – the flat tire, the dry radiator, running out of gas or electricity. One lovely thing about a couple’s road trip is that often, the couple gets to take turn driving – both the car, and the story. They follow their own timeline – not that of the large transportation company. It’s a very individualistic mode of transportation.

The Dream Bible says that to dream of cars is to effectively make decisions, or to show competency (or incompetency, for that matter). The Dream Bible asks, who is coming along for the ride? Are you in a cheap or an expensive car? Is the car new or old? Your car can be stolen, or out of control, or you can’t find it in the parking lot. I think it’s OK to slot cars into the fire element position – after all, they are powered by combustion or by electricity. Bring a fiery passion to the occupants of your car, and watch how the conflict and relationship develops.

I once did a NaNo about people taking a bicycle trip. It was set on a planet that was newly settled, and bicycles were an efficient way to get around (food was abundant, fossil fuels weren’t). Choosing a bicycle as the vehicle for my story shaped my narrative in so many different ways – they were limited as to how far they could go per day, and it was absolutely necessary to stop and eat, rest or sleep each day. There was a point each day when the characters had to stop worrying, and just take care of themselves.

That book was called, tentatively, An Asteroid Hit My Planet! and was about a young girl leading a rescue team to a township that had been hit. She was searching for her brother. The Dream Bible says that bicycle dreams are about taking care of problems yourself, and balancing oneself emotionally or psychologically. Even though my book was very much about cooperation, it is true that Andie, my heroine, felt she was the one who had to organize the expedition. “Returning to your life after experiencing a setback” – that is eerily true of this story. The Dream Bible says a BMX bike may symbolize being daring enough to fix your own problems if you need to. If I ever get back to that story, I’ll have to keep that in mind during the re-write. I think it’s very apt. I have to say, out of all the modes of transportation, the bicycle is about the human element.

So, how about it? Have your characters taken a journey that you’d like to share?

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Ships and Bicycles, Too

  1. I like travel stories, too, because they take characters away from their ordinary lives and plunge them into new territory. Even if the trip is fairly tame, not full of lions and tigers and bears, every moment is a new adventure (where’s lunch? Where’s gas? Where’s the exit? What’s our station?) and the characters are locked into each other until the adventure’s over. I once wrote a story about a woman hiring a cab driver to take her across country, and it was a blast. I had them stop off at the sign museum in Ohio and other unusual places, and just the other day I was tempted to start one about someone hiring a Lyft driver to take them…somewhere far away. Have I done that already? Why, yes, I have. But they are so much fun to write.

    • Zero Gravity Outcasts, for sure, is a travel story!

      Spaceships are amazing, because they are kind of like super-Recreational Vehicles (caravans?). They are home, yet they are on the move. You can get away from your fellow characters for a few minutes, but you must eventually go back and resolve the conflict or they’ll move on without you.

      It’s no surprise that the dream bible says that spaceships are about navigating into the unknown. They also say people who take ayahuasca often dream of spaceships, so that gives you license to get really weird and hallucinatory (if you need permission to do so, LOL).

      I love the Lyft idea; better write it before self-driving cars come in! It’s different than a taxi driver; I feel a taxi driver has more responsibility, while an Uber or Lyft guy could be more likely to chuck in the whole thing and leave you stranded in Flagstaff if things got too troubled. They don’t feel as bound by rules as an official taxi driver might be.

  2. I love to read travel adventures, but lately all my stories seem to be about somebody (the spoiled handsome prince, the fugitive royal bastard) coming to town. Do I want to know what The Dream Bible says about that? Hmmm, I’m not sure. Maybe later!

    • LOL, I would love to see you break down some common “somebody coming to town” tropes. I’m working on a combo, actually — the Frost God comes to town, and takes my heroine on an adventure (or three . . . but let’s work on this one at a time!). And I’d say that even though Bunny Blavatsky has never been to New York before the present story, it’s very much a “coming home” story for her — it’s the place she’s meant to be, not a temporary quest. (I think.) Watch out, year 1899 . . . Bunny Blavatsky is coming!

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