Writing Tips: Details: Vehicles

Last month was my best month in sales yet. Minutes Before Sunset continues to grow, and I want to thank everyone for their encouraging support, especially as we get closer to the release of Seconds Before Sunrise this March. I am very happy, and I must thank you all for that – thank you!

Another thank you goes out to Red Sand Reviewz for reading Minutes Before Sunset. “The summary alone had me hooked. Once I started reading it, I just couldn’t put it down. It has a unique storyline with plot twists and it beats a few stereotypes.” Find out what their only disappointment was in book 1 of The Timely Death trilogy by reading the rest of the review here.

And lastly, I asked everyone on my Facebook Author Page if you all would enjoy a monthly review of entertainment – like movies, music, and books – that I come across. Due to your input, these posts are now in the plan for once a month, and I will hopefully have my first one at the end of January.

Now, today’s topic. 

I’m starting a series of tips called “Writing Tips: Details: _____.” It will focus on things like how to choose a character’s wardrobe, bedroom style, and other favorite things in order to enhance their believability. This one is my first one, and considering I’ve been talking about cars a lot, I thought I would start off with vehicles – how to pick them and what to keep in mind while choosing them.

I think picking cars is a lot like picking names as well as many other things. The time period matters, the background matters, but you can still have fun with it, and it is ultimately up to the story. As long as you consider the character as the main chooser – and don’t choose a car simply because it’s your favorite car – I think you’re safe. I’m going to be using three examples from Minutes Before Sunset with individual reasoning for why I picked these cars. (The pictures are close examples, not exact, because years change over time, and one idea I talk about it being timeless.)

1. Eric Welborn (Shoman) – old Dodge Charger, black, two-door coupe

I know. I know. It’s only the backside, but the license plate is too funny! I have the link to the full picture below.
I know. I know. It’s only the backside, but the license plate is too funny! I have the link to the full picture below.

Originally, Eric drove a 2009, black Charger. The reasoning  – at first – was simple (and that is where I made a mistake). I wanted him to have a nice car, considering his father’s income, but I didn’t think his father would splurge beyond that for his son. When choosing the year, I picked a 2009, because that was the year I ended the trilogy, and my first plan was that he would have the latest model. But then I realized the same thing I realized when I discussed using technology in books – it becomes outdated really fast. That’s when I reconsidered the year of his car and realized that he also loves history. His personality directed a love for older cars. In that realization, I had to accept another change: his father spent more money on him. This came down to their relationship, which is explained in Minutes Before Sunset, so I can’t get more into it without a spoiler. But I made the personal decision not to focus on the exact year but rather the coupe style – that way, the car would last a decade after the book was published. I know the photo above is only the backside, but I thought the license plate was too funny to not share. If you’re curious, it’s a 1970 Dodge Charger 2-door coupe, RHD and you can see the full picture here.

2. Teresa Young (Camille) – old, silver BMW

This was the closest one I could find.
This was the closest one I could find.

More of Teresa’s background will be explained in Seconds Before Sunrise, but – so far – readers know she is a “half-breed.” She’s half-Light, half-Dark, and she was raised by the Dark. She is also Eric’s guard. When I reflected on this, I thought she might also have a nice car, something that Eric’s father would get her, but then I realized Camille was not the type to accept it. She wouldn’t even like it. She’s proud of being Eric’s guard, but she also wants to be herself, so her car had to reflect her independence, even if it seemed like more independence than she actually had. It also had to be unlike Eric’s car for another reason entirely – no one can know she is his guard. The world simply believes they are family friends. If the Welborn’s bought her a nice car, it would bring too much attention to their already suspicious relationship. It was another reason as to why she needed something that didn’t cause any unnecessary attention. That being said, Camille, herself, was insistent on a BMW, so that’s where I let the character ultimately pick (and what better way to celebrate her independence?). If I had to pick the closest car she would have today, it would be a 2004, BMW 3-Series with 80,000+ miles on it.

3. Robb McLain – Chevrolet Suburban, blue, a few years old 

This is a 2007, Chevy Suburban LTZ
This is a 2007, Chevy Suburban LTZ

One of Jessica Taylor’s best friends, Robb McLain is the social guy. He’s never alone, and he’s always driving someone around town, so I knew he needed a big vehicle, but his social life was not the main reason I picked this car for him. I had to think about who bought the car – his parents – and I remembered something my own father told me about choosing a 97’ Tahoe for my brother when he was Robb’s age, “I put as much metal around him as possible. I would put him in a tank if I could. It’s how I protect him.” As I thought of this, I could see Robb’s parents nodding. They agreed, and I knew I needed something like the 97’ Tahoe my brother drove at the time. Eventually, the Suburban settled down on my imagination’s driveway, and Robb was driving away soon enough.

Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual - a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy."
Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual – a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy.”

As you can see, there are a lot of things one has to consider when picking vehicles out for characters. Who bought the car? Who’s driving the car? What will the car be used for? Does the car work for the personality, setting, and economic background? And – most of all – did it feel right to your character when you picked it out? 

What about you? What kind of cars have you picked for a characters to drive around in? Were there any questions or hesitations you had when car shopping?


23 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Details: Vehicles

    1. Actually, Ryan, that adds a FANTASTIC point that I forgot to mention:

      No one has to get specific on the model or year or color of a car in a story, but I think it’s good for the author to know what it is. I was just reading “the impossible knife of memory” and Anderson simply wrote, “I didn’t notice much about his car. It had a windshield, doors, steering wheel, seat belts; that was all I needed.”

      I think statements like that – and you personal statement – can be very powerful in a story. It brings a truthful perspective.

      In “Minutes Before Sunset” – for instance – Eric mentions the model, color, and a few other details, but Jessica simply describes it as a black car. It shows how the characters differ on what matters to them while also giving character to the vehicle’s importance.


      1. That is a good point. In contrast to the detail I’ve lavished on Agony’s car, the narrator describes his own as a basic four door sedan. What a narrator chooses not to describe can tell you a lot, too.

  1. The only car that I have specified in detail belongs to Agony Delapour, who is very wealthy and has a very flamboyant sense of style. I gave her a 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni Edition. (In bright red, naturally.)

    I chose it for her in my last book because Agony has a pathological need to be the center of attention at all times, and it was the flashiest thing I could find. Interestingly enough, that car added a plot complication in this book. Agony is abducted, and I realized that finding a place to hide that car would be a problem for the kidnappers because it is so instantly recognizable.

  2. I write high fantasy, so cars aren’t involved. Carriage, horse, boat, griffin, some kind of triceratops, and sheep are the modes I have so far. Anyway, this reminds me of the 1967 Chevy Impala in Supernatural. It’s practically a main character because of how important it is because it symbolizes a home for the main characters. Similar is Burn Notice with the 1969 Dodge Charger, which is a connection to the main character’s father. This is probably more for action-based stories, but it seems cars tend to take a beating when the character is emotionally strained or even be used as a ‘sacrifice’ to move the plot along.

    1. You bring up an interesting addition though – I think carriages, horses, boats, etc. absolutely work in the “details” section. This details become very important for a character and their world. Maybe you might like to write guest post about how you pick horses or other things for a character? I would be more than happy to let you post your experiences and explanations on my site.

      1. Sure! You can write about non-modern transportation in fantasy or non-fantasy. Completely up to you. But I think it would be a fantastic piece to have, and I would be honored to post it on my website. If you want to, just send it to shannonathompson@aol.com, and we can pick a date for posting once it’s completed. :]

  3. I started a reply last night. It got a little long for a comment, so I’m going to finish it up and post it on my blog with a link back here. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the link back! I appreciate it 😀 And I’m glad you added a post to this discussion. I also don’t put all of the details above in the novels, because I think perspective is very important – as well as many of the other factors you discussed. Great piece.

  4. This was a great post! Really great detailing, never really paid much attention to vehicles before now I’m looking at them and thinking of how I’d put them down on paper 😀

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