Blog Post April 29, 2011
How To Use Cars (and other forms of transportation)
To Enhance Character Development
I started writing my book "What Car Would Hamlet Drive? 2000 questions to ask fictional characters for students, actors, writers and readers of fiction" because I had a very hard time making small talk at social events. I feared I might have as much difficulty thinking up things to ask fictional characters as a writer. Along the path of compiling thousands of questions, I discovered that I have written a seminal book about Character - not definitive because every time I let anyone read the book they came up with a dozen questions I'd forgotten - but definitely seminal. And the book in itself is a great conversation piece, because people I meet have all kinds of ideas about questions to ask characters and all kinds of suggestions as to how the answers advance understanding of people, plots and stories. The following is an excerpt from the book.
Cars and Other Forms of Transportation.
A car is generally a statement about the person driving it. Car choices convey how the character thinks about himself – how he wants other people to perceive him. Car ownership often has history behind it. A character drives a Cadillac because he thinks they make him look successful. A character never would drive a Cadillac because he thinks they are a reflection of nouveau riche. A character would never buy a new car. A character would never buy a used car.
There is a whole school of thought that cars actually reflect what’s going on in your life. When your car starts breaking down, your life is often also breaking down.
Write down ten attitudes toward cars that describe the people that own them?
If you are writing a period story, when there were no cars, do the exercise anyway. Use chariots or wagons, carriages or horses.
If you are writing about a period when there were no cars, try to figure out what the character would buy or drive if they lived today.
What kind of car would Hamlet drive is a lovely exercise. He’s a Prince, he’s rich, he can have any car he wants and he can modify it any way he wants. He's disturbed. He has a hard time making a decision. He's suicidal. Justify your choice of his car by his actions in the play.
The car is also a metaphor for other kinds of personal transportation. What carriage would this character drive? What skate board? What scooter? What motorcycle? Would he choose a buckboard or drive a stagecoach? Does he hate carriages and only ride horses. What kind of horses? Is he so poor he can’t afford a horse and must go by foot? What is life like on foot?
How does his choice of vehicle reflect his personality?
How does he accessorize his vehicle?
What is the difference between what the character wants the car to say about him and what it actually says about him? For example does scrooge drive a beat up, small, second hand car because he doesn’t want to spend the money on a new one and wants to save money on gas?
Does the character have a “personal” relationship with his car?
What has he named his car and why?
What does a beaten-up Ford say about the owner, an MG with spoke wheels; a Volvo, Saab, Jaguar, VW Beetle, Truck, Four Wheel Drive SUV or Hummer? Be specific about interiors, color schemes, and condition of the exterior-interior, choices of options.
How does the character take care of his car?
How does the character drive?
What car questions have I missed that you would like to add to this discussion?
Excerpt from my soon to be released book "What Car Would Hamlet Drive?"