Ninja Car is Leaking — Familiarity in Writing

In an effort to bend everything in my life to a writing metaphor, I shall endeavor to put a positive spin on Ninja Car’s most recent (today) trip to the auto shop.

Upon starting the car and shifting it into gear, the brake pedal depressed all the way to the floor. Kind of like a sponge. Beware of this. It indicates a brake line problem.

How do I know this while (three hours later) I still hadn’t gotten the inspection results? I’ve been here before.

Back in the ancient days of a couple years ago, I was driving an older vehicle. I slammed on the brakes to avoid the short-stop of traffic ahead, and I pulled into the nearest lot to recollect control over my nervous system.

Five minutes of idle stop-and-go in the empty lot, and I realized the car is taking its sweet time rolling to a stop, and the brake is kind of spongy. It goes all the way to the floor instead of meeting the normal amount of resistance.

After a quick park, duck, and check—yep, it’s leaking a mysterious fluid. You may have guessed: brake line fluid! Not good.

 

SO. In the wee hours of morning, I shifted my car into gear, and the pedal depressed to the floor with a terribly familiar sponginess. I was familiar with the problem because I experienced it before. Park, duck, check—leak!

In quick succession, these were my Steps to Car Fail Morning:

  1. Something is wrong. Like, spongy evil wrong.
  2. Test brake. Very much not working. Hissing sound, putting air into the line. BAHH.
  3. DO NOT DRIVE BROKEN NINJA CAR.
  4. Call coworkers. Announce despair.
  5. Acquire shop recommendations. Call and decide upon a shop.
  6. Cook and eat pancake (I am a master of the single-serve pancake).
  7. Call AAA and get a tow.
  8. Arrive at shop. Sign away Ninja Car and money.
  9. Get a ride to work from awesome coworker.
  10. Await the call with the estimate (ouch, 500 bucks).

How does this all relate to writing? In TWO WAYS, fellow Internetter.

 

WAY ONE

We all know the annoying adage “write what you know”. While we want to ignore that advice and write about a scraggly hermit who steals pungwidgets and lives in a cave, we ultimately write better fiction when we have a bit of knowledge behind us.

That knowledge can come from experience, research, or reading. Or (as a completely random, unrelated example) from having car troubles. Mark my words, once you break down, you’re characters will start suffering the wrath of automotive anomalies.

 

WAY TWO

Once we’re familiar with something (like a damaged brake line), we can spot it in the future. We’re better equipped to solve problems that we have already been exposed to. This is a bit of observational, experiential learning in practice.

This applies to the writing and revision stage. Once you realize you have wordy scenes, jarring transitions, or you’re using the same dialogue tags over and over again, it’s easier for you to spot them in the future.

You can take active steps to avoid wordiness while writing, and you’ll pay special attention to your scene-summary transitions when you’re revising.

Of course, none of this betterment can happen if you don’t notice the mistakes in the first place, which can be difficult. That’s what beta readers, critique partners, absolute terror while slamming on the brakes, and objective outside viewers are for.

 

Take your life experiences and let them make you better. Better at driving, better at recognizing problems, and (as always) better at writing!

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