The Car Thing: Words of Wisdom from a Gearhead

The Car Thing: Words of Wisdom from a Gearhead
©May 17, 2011 by Daven Anderson

I’ve noticed some readers think my stories have excess detail when I refer to cars by their specific model, even sub-model. The specific references are there to help the clarify the readers’ mental pictures of the character’s cars.

Example: How descriptive are you when you say that your character drives a “Dodge Charger?” Do you mean the muscle car two-door coupe made from 1966 to 1978, the subcompact hatchback made from 1983 to 1987, or the current four-door sports sedan made since 2006? This is a perfect example of where specifying the car’s sub-model is of great help to assist the reader in knowing which Dodge Charger you’re writing about.

By specifying that my character drives an “SRT8″ (sub-model name), not just a “Charger” (model name), I give my readers the important clue they need to know exactly what kind of car he’s driving. Some readers will recognize what an “SRT8″ is immediately, and the rest can Google it.

I ran into the car-model problem myself one evening at our critique group. When I wrote about my character’s “Shelby GT-500″, one person at the table wrote that he loved my reference to the “classic 1960′s muscle-car.” The only problem was, I meant for the car to be the current 2011 model year Shelby GT-500. The next day, I made sure to add “2011″ to my chapter.

It’s true some readers don’t care about cars. The reverse is also true. When Stephen King’s novel Christine was released in 1983, he made numerous factual errors when describing various attributes of a 1958 Plymouth Fury. His errors were even more notorious than usual because the novel’s central character, Christine, is a (supernaturally sentient) 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Even in 1983, error after error leapt out at me from the pages of Christine, yanking me out of the story. Christine was painted “Autumn Red” color, even though the 1958 Fury was only offered in Buckskin Beige. King himself had to explain (after the book was released!) that Christine was special-ordered in red. But he never explained the “Hydramatic transmission lever” (push buttons shift the 1958 Plymouth’s Torqueflite transmission), the “Rocket V8″ air cleaner (did Christine eat an Oldsmobile?), Arnie replacing the “rear door” on a car that had no rear doors, or the non-existent door lock button clamping down as Leigh Cabot eats her burger in the drive-in. The movie’s car builders had to install fake door lock buttons in a 1958 Plymouth to replicate this scene.

The final insult was when I noticed the rear cover’s picture of Stephen King, sitting on the hood of a 1957 (not a 1958) Plymouth. A world-famous author, who could have bought a 1958 Plymouth Fury just for research purposes, or at least borrowed one. What did it say about his “research” when even a teenage reader (before the modern Internet existed!) was laughing at all his mistakes? This is why I swore back in 1983 that if I ever wrote a book, the car details would be correct. My younger self would be proud to see I kept that promise.

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To E-Pub or Not To E-Pub…

Off-the-chart irony: Some of the best, most honest and straight-forward advice about e-publishing can be found on AgentQuery.com. Which is a website to connect writers with literary agents. Whose (standard) purpose is to pitch those writers’ works to traditional publishing houses.

Are Agent Query’s detailed instructions on how to create eBooks the equivalent of your friendly local car mechanic giving his customers step-by-step instructions on how to rebuild their car’s transmission?

Maybe not. In this age of change, many agents are changing their mission. They are now representing indie authors, and even establishing their own publishing enterprises. The agents on this new frontier are the equivalent of the mechanic who gives you the instructions, with the hope you’ll rent all the special tools you need from him.

To paraphrase Mr. McGuire in “The Graduate“, I have one word to say to you, my fellow writers: Editing. 😈

Writer’s Toolbox – yWriter5

The scenes and chapters that authors write are pieces of a puzzle. Standard word processors such as Microsoft Word and Open Office Writer are ideal for composing your pieces. When you have gathered all the pieces and are ready to start assembling your puzzle, it’s time for a specialized editing tool. yWriter5, created by author Simon Haynes.

You can download and use it for free, with no time restrictions or ads. If you find this program to be beneficial, you can make a donation or click the links on the donation page to spread the word about his software on Google, Twitter, or Facebook.

The basics of yWriter5 were covered in Ron Heimbecher’s “Mapping, Trapping and Zapping” class at the 2011 Colorado Gold conference. After editing the first thirteen chapters of my novel in yWriter5, I have some useful tips.

In yWriter5, the building blocks of your novel are scenes. Chapters in yWriter5 are simply the upper level folders in which scenes reside. Your written text is pasted into scenes. This means when you create a chapter, you have to create scenes within the chapter before you paste in your text. In our critique group documents, we tend to mark scene changes with asterisks or the like. When pasting your documents into yWriter, you’ll copy and paste one scene at a time. yWriter5 can automatically split your scenes with asterisks, pound signs or your own custom characters when you export the project.

Sample story content tab
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The logic behind organizing a project by scenes is readily apparent from Simon Haynes’ own example. He had saved the chapters of his first novel as individual files (as I did). The organizational difficulties he experienced after moving a scene from one chapter to another (and back) are what prompted him to create yWriter5. Relocating a scene from one chapter to another is, of course, a quick and easy operation in yWriter5.

You can even define scenes as “used” or “unused.” If you wish to leave a scene out of an exported project, all you have to do is change it to “unused.” This ability comes in particularly handy if you have scenes you wish to leave out of agent and publisher submissions, but you want to keep those same scenes in your eBook version. When the scene editor is closed, a quick way to determine if your scene is “used” or “unused” (besides the small “Sc” or “U” boxes) is to check the chapter’s word count in the left pane. The chapter’s word count will drop when the scene is marked “unused”, and increase when the scene is again marked “used”.

yWriter5 features a Character index for scenes. Characters are assigned short names (ie: Holden) and full names (ie: Holden Morrisey Caulfield). I created some middle names for minor characters to make the index complete. A naming convention I had to consider is that European-descent working-class persons born before the 19th century generally did not have given middle names. Thus, my vampires born before 1800 lack middle names. One glance at my yWriter5 name listing quickly tells you which of my vampires are older. (One exception, L. She now uses her maiden name as her middle name)

In addition to the Character index, scenes also have Location and Item indexes. For example, you can quickly summon each scene occurring at Denver International Airport, or the scenes in which a Nissan GT-R appears. The indexes are very useful for editing out duplicated information about your locations and items.


click on image to view in full size

One issue I haven’t found an easy solution for yet is: If you paste double-spaced text into a scene, there’s no easy way to change it to single-spaced from within yWriter. My workaround has been to paste my text into plain text files (which removes all the formatting), then paste from there into yWriter and re-format. I prefer having the plain text files as an extra form of backup. You can also reformat your document as single-spaced, save it, then paste into yWriter. YWriter does have a global “remove all formatting” option, but this will strip out all your bolds, italics, underlines, etc.

yWriter5 does have a few idiosyncrasies you will have to learn before you master it, but it’s a well-designed program that will be of great help to you. And it’s free! 😀