We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Hit the road, Jack – Monica Wood on the literary road trip

Who among us doesn’t love a road trip? The American literary canon is packed with them—Kerouac’s  On the Road and  Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie head a long and venerable list. Something about the road ahead keeps characters and their readers deeply engaged in the story.

Early in the writing of The One-in-a-Million Boy, the plot stalled on me. I wanted to get three of my characters in the same room. But how? After several dispiriting false starts, I packed them into a car and sent them on a little trip. Belle, a grieving mother; Ona, a 104-year-old woman; and Quinn, a feckless guitar player.  As soon as the ignition turned over, my mind, too, ignited. Stuffing three unlike entities into a small, moving space is one of the best ways I know to find out who’s who.

As physical space shrinks, metaphorical space expands. Dialogue becomes more targeted, more loaded, because the characters have lost their option to not listen. They can’t wander off or storm out. There’s room for comedy, too: most people are terrible drivers, and in any triad someone is always odd man out. Quinn, who at first feels like a hero for taking Ona to the state of Vermont to see her son, soon finds himself stranded in the back seat as his ex-wife and new friend chatter away: “They were on a first-name basis now, united in female solidarity after a twenty-minute conversation about cats.”

The end point of a road trip is destination: always fraught and often surprising. As I let my characters disembark, I realised they’d completed three separate road trips, all of them at cross purposes, expecting a different  metaphorical landing. What a juicy outcome for me, their author! The rest of the book, while not easy to write, took on welcoming layers of story and character that traced back to the revealing rhythms of the road.

Liked this? Why not catch up on…

How the ‘Wild West’ inspired Emylia Hall for THE SEA BETWEEN US

Why Tamara McKinley finds so much to write about in her favourite city, Paris