When was the last time you drove your car (or, you were a passenger) from Chicago to New York City? Ever?
But, that’s what Millie was doing at the end of yesterday’s scene. Well, her and daughter Molly were starting that journey having just merged onto I-90.
Four hours later their always-before-now trusty 1999 Sentra balks on I-80 while crossing the Maumee River just east of Perrysburg, Ohio. The high mileage Nissan calls it quits before exiting the quarter-mile causeway.
This imaginary event came to mind during this morning’s planning. Initially, I knew today’s writing objective—and probably tomorrow’s and maybe even Sunday’s—was to draft the details of Millie and Molly’s near-800 mile journey. In part, I wanted it to be especially memorable for Molly, Millie’s precocious twelve-year-old.
In an earlier scene I’d mentioned Millie’s vehicle so today I felt it realistic for it to develop some mechanical issues, even breakdown. I supposed I likened the twenty-year-old Sentra to Chekhov’s gun. “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
My auto breakdown idea was all I knew about this scene (now, I’m thinking it’s going to take several scenes). This is inherent in being a pantser. Even if I were a plotter, I suspect its impossible to know everything before the drafting process begins.
My type of scene planning always involves brainstorming. No different today. In deciding where the breakdown would take place (my decision, not Millie’s!) I used Google Maps and found a city around four hours ‘down the road.’ There was some trial and error. I saw Perrysburg, OH along the route and plugged it into the Directions feature (FROM Chicago, TO Perrysburg). I then scanned the Map using satellite view and spotted the Maumee River east of Perrysburg. Magic.
The next question was easy. What would Millie do? Note, it’s important to ‘become’ the main character. What would she do? Not necessarily what you the author would do. Her answer, she would call for help. After a quick Google search, “auto repair/road service near Perrysburg, OH,” she chose Ray’s Service Center & Towing over Steve’s Family Auto. Obviously, these are real places. It’s okay to use them fictionally. Ray’s tows the Sentra to his garage in Perrysburg.
Once he diagnoses the car’s problem, Millie has another question to answer. She’s just learned the cost to repair her Sentra is more than its worth. Recall, she and Molly are fleeing a bad situation in Chicago. Millie is committed to leaving Colton behind. Forever. She ultimately concludes her and Millie will take Greyhound bus to New York City. A couple of Google searches reveal the nearest bus station is in Toledo, fifteen miles away, and an Uber service is available to take them there.
At this point, I (as author) need to obtain details about the Greyhound bus ride. Fortunately, their website supplied all I needed. I believe it is important to discover the logistics, to learn what my characters will have to deal with. Greyhound’s site allowed me—without registering or anything–to plug in the desired departure time and location, and the destination. It even provided a detailed itinerary showing arrival and departure times at every stop along the way, which are, in order: Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown, OH; Pittsburgh, Midway Plaza, Harrisburg, Norristown King Prussia E., and Philadelphia, PA; Camden, Mt. Laurel, and Newark, NJ; and, New York George Washington Bridge in New York City. Doesn’t this twenty-one hours and five-minute journey sound fun?
There’s still a lot of brainstorming to do, but this is a start.