Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hairpins and Curves

Flying down the freeway one cool June morning, we laughed and talked, enjoying each other's company. It was my first trip through the mountains to his favorite beach. He decided to take the scenic route and turned off onto a beautifully picturesque two lane road. It was charming - until we reached the mountains.

Far too comfortable driving the familiar road, he continually took one hand off the wheel, waving it high above the windshield to point out one landmark after another. We raced through each hairpin turn; the engine thrumming louder and softer as he accelerated and decelerated. The tires squealed when he banked into each turn and I swear I heard pebbles and other pieces of the roadside tumble over the side of the mountain when he floored the gas pedal on the way out. I was petrified. Mile after mile, it looked as though the nose of the car purposely sought out the edge, and felt as though it's rear tires found air.

Meanwhile he chatted excitedly, fiercely relishing each challenge the road presented him. To this day, I remember not a single word he said. Terror was not just an emotion, it was my entire state of being. Speaking was impossible; my mouth didn't remember how to open. Even my thoughts were inarticulate. I couldn't pull enough of myself together to scream. I tried to keep my eyes closed behind my sunglasses, but the sounds without the visuals seemed much louder and the jarring momentum was far more scary.

Then we started downhill.

When the short straightaways faced west - and my eyes were afraid to close - I saw the ocean in the distance, about a thousand feet below us. The downhill curves were - unbelievably - even tighter and closer together. The only thing left to me was to give myself over to the One. I was that sure I was going to die.

Reaching the gentle down slope to level ground was joltingly unexpected. One last nearly vertical tight hairpin and we were out. It took several minutes for my mind to process that the mountains were behind us. I felt myself beginning to thaw, and was soon able to unlock my knees and gradually remove my foot from the imaginary brake I'd been pressing. During the next few miles, I convinced myself to loosen my grip on the door handle and unclench my other hand. The fingernail impressions in my palm were so deep, I'd almost drawn blood.

Though it was obvious that I had found the drive disturbing, I never let him know how panicked I was (until now). I spent our time at the beach in a daze, dreading the drive back. It turned out to be a little easier than the trip out because we were on the inside lane. I did fear that oncoming cars, tightly hugging the curves, would swerve into us; or that we might take a turn too sharply and crash into the mountainside. Those worries were nothing compared to the terror I felt on the way out. Odd that I preferred smashing into a cliff over tumbling down the side of one.

If that drive had been a book, would you have stayed or bailed after the first few turns?

I love to read the books where I fully experience the development and epiphanies of the main character. In my own book, I flew by my main character's major epiphany far too fast. Receding in the rear view mirror, it disappeared into the turn I'd just accelerated out of almost as soon as it occurred. I raced on, banking rapidly into the next crisis. In that stretch of the story, I sped past many of the developmental changes that my heroine experienced; in too much of hurry to flesh out the action. When she acted on her new-found knowledge, there was little evidence showing from whence it had come.

Of course, the fly-bys are being fixed. I've added to the revision outline, expanding the story to show her epiphanies and other experiences. By the time I had adjusted the full outline to accommodate the changes, I'd added a new chapter. I may have to adjust my ROW80 goals to show that the outline is taking a little longer than planned. But that's okay, because the ultimate goal is to deliver my best possible story.


#ROW80 update, 01/23/2011:

  • Goal 1: Revising chapter thirteen now heading to fourteen. May not make the end of the month, but feels like I'm making significant progress.
  • Goal 2: Was averaging about three hours per day until Friday and Saturday. Will make sure I have time today so that I can head into Monday on a positive note.
  • Goal 3 -Still posting!
Hope you are doing well!



  1. Wonderful depiction--your character reminded me exactly of my sister the first time she visited me in LA. From Woodland Hills to Topanga and down to Malibu, she whimpered and clung to the door. Unlike your driver character, I was paying attention to the road, and didn't see her distress. When I did see it, I felt rather insulted--did she think I had no driving skills?

    Great that you've tied it into pacing a book. I'll keep that in mind while I'm writing the later parts of my books. Thanks!

  2. Great opening to a blog post. Fast yet plenty of details. Good way of tying in setting with action and characterisation as well.

  3. I agree with Texanne and Katy. Plus, you're getting lots done. Way to go!

  4. Texanne, glad you liked the post. I think when a person reacts that way, it's not really about the driver. Could be their first experience on a mountain road, fear of heights or something like that. I love that stretch of road to Malibu - really beautiful!

    Thanks Katy. I really worked at including details throughout the piece instead of a big setup paragraph at the beginning.

    365andMe. Thanks and you're making good progress as well. Love your list approach!

  5. This is an excellent post on pacing. Absolutely gorgeous imagery. You are making wonderful progress. Keep up the awesome work.

  6. I can relate to the passenger in the car drama. Would absolutely keep reading. Well done!

  7. Thank you Dawn and CMStewart for stopping by to read. I really appreciate your comments.

  8. Thank you for the insight into your writing, (sometimes I need all the advice I can get) and the heart pounding drive.


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