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.
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?