How to Let Your Characters Drive Your Story

by Joe Bunting | 114 comments

I love the way Anne Lamott describes writing. She says,

“Writing is like driving at night with headlights: you can only see a little bit.”

Should you outline your novel, making sure you know everything that happens before you write or do you take Anne Lamott's advice and drive in the dark?

Could it be possible to do both?

Writing is like driving at night

Photo by eblaser

I’m not an outliner. When I try to write an outline, I end up with complete sentences that turn into paragraphs when I remove the bullets.

But I am a planner. I know my piece is going from Story Point A to Story Point B, but I let the characters find the best road to get there. That’s when things get fun.

Here are my two steps to avoid an outline while sticking to the plan:

1. Let your character drive.

When you let the characters drive, you can't see beyond the headlights. Characters love to explore uncharted territory and some really neat things appear. The car gets lost the driver cruises down avenues you hadn't considered. It ends up in a ditch when the character is adamant her way is better than yours. The car makes a u-turn when he misses the destination. Ultimately, the story-car pulls into a parking lot that may or may not be Parking Lot (or Story Point) B.

2. Make your character sit in the passenger seat.

Allowing characters to drive all of the way through the writing and publication of a piece leads to a road trip longer than necessary. At some point you need to regain control of the wheel. Once you're back in the driver's seat, be sure to do some revising.


For fifteen minutes, write about some people in a car at night when something unexpected happens. Don't plan where your piece will go but let the characters drive. Share it here. Be sure to comment on some other posts too. Try to say one aspect you liked and one aspect you didn’t care for.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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  1. Christine Niles

    Jody felt the seatbelt pull tight against his chest and hips. His body’s momentum continuing forward against the belt; the low scream as the car fell backward, the undercarriage scraping hard against the pavement.
    His view of the road ahead tilted up, the car’s windshield framed the bright moon, surrounded by stars.  Where’s the road? his mind fell just a beat behind reality.
    He snapped back in his seat when the car’s tail hit the bottom of the hole.  Jagged pavement, torn re-bar, and broken glass now framed the full moon and starry sky. Jody whipped his gaze to Jen, dozing in the passenger seat just seconds before. Now she stared toward him, eyes wide, breath frozen.
    Feeling her panic, he fumbled with her seatbelt latch, releasing her, and them himself. Gravity held their bodies against the seat backs, and Jody struggled to pull himself up through the shattered windshield.
    He climbed up the hot hood, and folded his waist over the car’s grill to lean down and reach for Jen’s hand, but she wasn’t reaching back. Her eyes flitted back and forth, struggling to make sense of what she couldn’t see.  She tried to reach her hand out toward Jody’s distant voice, but her muscles didn’t respond.
    Jody heard the sirens in the distance.  It’s now or never, he thought. He looked at Jen and knew that she needed more help than he could give her. She would be better off if the paramedics found her.  She clearly couldn’t run with him; she wouldn’t survive the night in the cold desert.
    He scrambled back down to the bottom of the hole and pulled a backpack through the back window, stuffing as much as he could into its gaping mouth. He paused, leaning across the broken glass of Jen’s window, and kissed her on the forehead.  ”I’m sorry, babe.  I can’t let them find me here, but they’ll take care of you…”
    And then he ran.

    • Allison Janes

      Nicely written.  It makes me want to know what happened, 10 min, an hour, a day before. 

    • Christine Niles

      Great question, Allison!  Funny that as I thought about continuing with it, i was only thinking into the future for them, but you’ve gotten me wondering what happened to get them there in the first place…

    • Katie Axelson

      I like it. Great opening cliffhanger too. I hope you keep writing it. 🙂 The mouth metaphor took me two readings… I was wondering what he was shoving in his own mouth.

    • Christine Niles

      Thanks, Katie…I will hang onto this.  I definitely see your point about the mouth, too. 

    • Plumjoppa

       I’m curious which path this story will follow, what happens to Jody or what happens to Jen. 

    • Christine Niles

      Really interesting question…Maybe I’ll have to write down both roads and see what happens! 

    • Marianne

      That was good.  It could be the start to a story or novel.  You describe being upside down in a car well, something that I can’t think would be easy to do. Good for you!

    • Christine Niles

      Thanks, Marianne.  A very long time ago, I did a 2-page description of a car accident that really helped me notice the details.  That stuck with me, and came back as I started writing this.

  2. Allison Janes

    I double checked that the knob was turned to the little “defrost windshield” symbol and tried to slide the fan switch just a little bit closer to high, but to no avail.  The icy rain was hitting the windshield and freezing into a progressively larger impediment to my vision, impervious to my furiously swiping but completely ineffectual wipers.  I craned my neck in various directions, trying to find a small portion of windshield that was not covered in ice and would allow me a view, however, limited of the road in front of me.  My headlights, painting faint yellow triangles on the slushy ruts in the highway barely seemed to pierce into the oppressive blackness that pressed in on us in the tiny car.  I looked behind me at Noah, his tiny face peering out of his puffy blue snowsuit that seemed to swallow his little baby body.  He wasn’t asleep but he was in that quiet calm just before.  His head leaned back against the headrest of his car seat and he looked out the window, serene and completely unaware. 
    As I looked at his face in the rearview mirror, panic started to rise again in my throat, making a lump I couldn’t seem to swallow.  We’d needed to get away, I’d known that since before he was born but I just hadn’t been able to come up with a good plan.  This morning, Noah’s father had come home in a rage and I’d realized that we’d run out of time for planning.  I grabbed diaper bag and all the warm clothes I could find before I scooped Noah up off the floor and just walked out the door, plucking the keys to the car out of his Daddy’s coat where it hung by the door as I walked by, not even breaking my stride. 
    I’m sure he didn’t notice we were really gone until much later, he was used to me slipping out with Noah while he was drunk and angry and once he realized we’d taken the car and weren’t coming back, he wouldn’t know where to look for us anyway.  He couldn’t know where we were going, even I didn’t know.  If I could just find a small town off this black highway we could find a place to stay and then trade the car for something he wouldn’t be able to follow and we’d be free.  If only we could go just a little bit faster, but I didn’t dare risk spinning out. 
    I saw the sign for a small town coming up in just a few miles and the relief that flooded through me was like morphine.  We’d made it.  I’d tried to run before but I’d always left a trail and he’d tracked me down.  I’d had to give up everything in my world, my job, my family, my friends, my home town in order to get away with Noah and now that I realized we’d done it, I knew it was worth all the sacrifice.  We’d start fresh somewhere completely new.  We’d be alone, starting from scratch, but Noah would be safe, so everything would be fine. 
    I had just past the sign for the off ramp, the path to our freedom and a good nights sleep when the lights came up in my rearview mirror, blue and red, and I knew that he had found me.  My vision blurred with fear and my heart raced so fast I worried I would lose consciousness and spin off the road.  He’d always said that I couldn’t leave because he’d call the cops and tell them I’d kidnapped Noah.  I thought I’d done everything right.  I left no breadcrumbs, there was no trail to follow…except the license plate of his car.  Which, of course, he would say that I stole.  It was in his name because “he needed it for business purposes”, even though I’d made every single payment using the money I’d made waiting tables.  My hands were slippery with sweat and I thought, just for a fleeting moment about putting my foot to the floor and trying to make a run for it.  But then I thought of Noah, and the bad weather, and I knew that if they took him away, but he was safe, I could handle that, but I’d never be able to live with myself if I crashed this car and he were hurt.  And so I wiped my sweaty hands on my thighs and tried to slow my breathing as I pulled the car over, just before the off ramp, onto the shoulder.  The police car pulled in behind me and the officer got out, wearing a heavy winter coat that made him look larger than life.  He pulled a flashlight off his belt and shined it at the license plate of my car, scrutinizing it as he slowly walked up toward my window.  I pushed the button to lower my window and it hesitated a moment, slightly frozen before it broke free and rolled down.  “It’s ok baby,” I murmured to Noah as the officer approached, sick with fear that he was going to pull Noah out of the car and I would never see him again.  How was I going to live through tomorrow if they took my baby away?  What if they gave him to his father?  He wouldn’t be safe without me there to deflect and absorb the anger.  I would go back and spend the rest of my life with his father if it meant I could keep Noah safe.  But could I keep him safe?  I would have to find a way.  That is, if they didn’t just take him away from me immediately.  I had to find a way to get them to let me stay with Noah, I would do anything – “Good evening, Ma’am.”
    The officer had reached my window and leaned in.  “It’s an awfully dangerous night to be out driving, don’t you think?” he asked. “And with a baby in the car.” He said as he looked back at Noah, seeming to be surprised to see him there.  “Where is it that you think you’re going at this time of night?” he asked. “Don’t you think there’s somewhere else you should be?” This was it, this was as far as I would get.  Where would my life go from here?  “I’m thinking,” he started up again, not waiting for me to answer “that you ought to get that baby in somewhere warm before you go off the road in this sleet.  Did you know your left tail light is out? Some hooligan driving too fast out here might not see you, and then you’d get hit.” Tail light? Was he really talking about a tail light?  “Yes, sir.” I said, my voice sounding shaky and I hoped he couldn’t hear it.  “Now, are you staying in Glenville, tonight?” he asked, “I’d hate to think you’re driving another 30 miles to Bath.” “No,” I answered, a little too quickly.  “We’re staying in Glenville.  I was just about to get off the highway at this ramp.”  “Well now, that’s good.  That’s smart. You make sure you get that tail light fixed tomorrow morning, alright?”  “Yes, sir” I said again “first thing.”  “’Night Ma’am” he said and he strode back to his car.  I waited until he’d pulled out around me and headed up the highway before I started breathing again.  I turned around and looked at Noah, who’d fallen asleep while I’d waited for the other shoe to fall.  Amazingly, it hadn’t fallen, not tonight.  He was still here, safe with me, and we were free to go.  I put my hand on his little snowsuited leg, barely able to feel his tiny bones through the down and felt the ache of my love and the intensity of my relief make me lightheaded for a second.  Then I turned back to the wheel, slowed my breathing until I could focus, and pulled the car onto the highway and up the ramp to the tiny town where we would stay the night.           

    • Katie Axelson

      Wow. Great practice, Allison! You had been hooked the whole time.

    • Mirelba

       That was amazing!

    • Juliana Austen

      I really liked the juxtaposition of the difficult driving conditions and serenity of the baby. You built the tension really well. Although I found it a little repetitive. 

    • Allison Janes

      I’m struggling with things getting too long, probably a result of the repitition. I will keep that in mind, thanks!

  3. Kything To Write

    “Em, don’t go to sleep.”

    “M’ not sleepy,” Emma murmured.

    Like hell she wasn’t. Emma was an early sleeper; while three in the morning was rather late for most people, it was impossible for John to imagine Emma up and functioning at this time. But remarkably, she was still awake, more or less. Also remarkably, she had managed to survive the party without getting stoned. It was quite an achievement for someone’s first ‘proper’ party.


    “Hmm?” John glanced at the rearview mirror, but met her stomach instead of her eyes—Emma was lying down on the back seat.

    “Can I tell you something?”

    “Of course.” The words were out before he had time to think. He had only met the strange, hyperactive girl a few months ago, and they had instantly bonded over similar survival tactics: caffeine.

    There was silence for a few seconds, then Emma was sitting up, her head next to his. Another moment of silence. Then, the light touch of dry lips on his cheeks.”Thank you, John,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have you as my friend.”

    John didn’t know why he found it hard to reply. Hundreds of people had called him ‘friend’ over the years; it had always been a casual relationship, evolving from lunch breaks sitting next to each other or a shared parking lot. 

    Never before had he had a relationship like this, built on coffee shops and hugs exchanged on the roadside, where they would meet in police stations or in Accidents and Emergencies. It seemed different, somehow—a strange relationship, one that wouldn’t be broken by petty fights, one that didn’t need the constant sharing of daily things or the routine that characterised his other friendships. It seemed more sacred; stronger and yet more sensitive at the same time. ‘Friend’ was a different label when applied to them.

    “Em, it’s absolutely amazing to have you as mine.”

    • Katie Axelson

      Great work, especially with your point of view in sharing John’s wondering.

    • Sayyada Dharsee

      Thanks for the comment! 

    • Marianne

      That’s a sweet story.  You even have developed the characters a bit before the fifteen minutes was up.  I like the ending a lot. 

    • Sayyada Dharsee

      Thank you! It was fun just going with the flow for a while!

  4. Katie

    It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.  E.L. Doctorow

  5. Brianna McBride

    Well, I tried to do this exercise, but failed completely. So no practice from me today.
    Meanwhile, I feel like I outline different from everyone else. I’ve never seen my way suggested before, though I haven’t explored much. Maybe I’ll post it on my own blog, once I actually get it up and running.

    • Katie Axelson

      I’m sorry it failed for you. Don’t be afraid to post bad stuff too 🙂 I’d love to hear more about your outlining and what works for you.

    • Brianna McBride

      I just started a blog recently showing my photography, writing, book reviews, etc, but it only has a couple of posts, show I’m not publicizing it yet. I’ll definitely make an article on it soon!

    • Katie Axelson

      Post it here when you do 🙂

  6. Brianna McBride

    That’s one of my favorite writing quotes. 

    • Katie Axelson

      A few months ago I had issues with Internet Explorer doing that too. Is your browser up to date? Try using Google Chrome instead.

    • Brianna McBride

      Yeah, I’m using Google Chrome. I quite IE years ago. Hmph, hopefully it was a one time thing. My internet connection was slow as well, so that might have been a factor. *shrug*

  7. Ellie Mack

     I often walk that line between pantsing and plotting.  If I pants my characters take off on tangents that really don’t contribute to the story, and end up having to cut out what is often really good work.  But if I plot everything it removes the excitement of discovering the story. Somewhere in the small headlights is discovery and  a path, with the possible dangers just out of view.  Excellent post

    • Katie Axelson

      Yup, finding balance is the important detail. When I have to cut large chunks like that, I save it elsewhere and call it character development.

  8. Tom Wideman

    Harry decided he should drive since he was the only one in the group who was able to hold his liquor. The rest of the partiers were in no shape to drive. Paul and Lisa jumped in the back seat to continue their make out session, which left Tom riding shotgun. His main job was to keep Harry awake and to avoid puking in the car, but the hairpin curves was proving a big challenge.

    Tom hung his head out the open window for some fresh air. The dark scene from the winding lake road was quiet except for the chorus of mating frogs and cicadas. Tom closed his eyes as the night air cooled his clammy forehead. 

    “Hey guys, what do you think would happen if I turned off the headlights right now?” Harry said with a mischievous grin.

    “Don’t you dare,” Lisa shouted, as she came up for air. 

    This, apparently, only served to tempt Harry all the more. He reached down to the switch, turning the lights off and then right back on, just to hear Lisa scream. 

    Tom sat up, stupefied. “What’s going on?” he asked.

    “Harry turned out the headlights and almost got us killed,” Lisa shouted. Paul laughed while attempting to distract her with his wandering hand, but she pushed him away. 

    Harry turned on the radio and accelerated into the night.  The headlights eerily illuminated the narrow road and surrounding woods, along with the occasional yellow warning sign. 

    The radio, finally clear of static, blared out a familiar tune. Tom and Harry sang along, like the drunks they were. As the road straightened out a bit, Harry reached down and teased with the lights again. Lisa let out another  scream, but this time was abruptly interrupted by a loud thump and jolt. 

    “What was that?” Paul asked from the backseat. But no one answered. The car continued moving forward in the dark.

    “Turn on the lights and stop the car, you idiot,” shouted Lisa. But Harry still didn’t answer. No one ever answered. 


    • Katie Axelson

      Now I want to know what happened. I like how nothing happened the first time but something did happen the second. Reading now, I figure it was Harry but at first I thought the loud thump and jolt were the car hitting something.

    • Tom Wideman

      Katie, your guess is as good as mine at this point. I wish I knew what happened as well. 🙂

    • Zoe Beech

      Wow.. that last line is a shocker.

    • Tom Wideman

      Yeah, it kinda shocked me too.

    • Juliana Austen

      So glad I didn’t read yours before I posted mine! Great active description.

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks, Juliana. I’m still not sure I have the whole “active description” thing down, but it’s nice to know I’m headed in the right direction. 

    • John Fisher

      Great dialog and descriptive detail — I can hear Lisa’s screams, just like girls used to scream on some of our high-school shenanigans. And a shocker of an ending!  Looking for an aspect I didn’t like, I just can’t find one.  Good writing!

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks, John. I appreciate your kind words. This story is based on some real events back in my college days. It’s fun to take it a step further and explore the “what ifs.”

    • Ernest

      God, I wish I could write like this!!! awesome!!

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks, Ernest. I really appreciate the props!

    • Marianne

      I like the second paragraph a whole lot.  I like it all but that paragraph really is an example of your ability with description.  The sounds, the movement of hanging his head out of the window, and the air cooling his face are so perfect they put me right in that car which is where you want you reader to be. 

  9. Kswan102

    I had fun with this assignment.  It gave me lots of ideas 

    • Katie Axelson

      Care to share your practice?

  10. Juliana Austen

    Loved this! I struggle with plans and outlines but this is a really helpful option! Here is my go:
    The road ahead was very dark, their
    headlights illuminated the hills, the turns but not the sudden sharp bends

    “Why are there no street lights?”

    “Because we are not on a street. We are in
    the country now Melissa. There is nothing for a street lamp to light up.” Bob
    said gripped the steering wheel and switched the overdrive on the dash of the
    little old roadster. The top was up but the wind whistled through gaps in the
    leather. Cold draughts  found ways
    down necks and across knees.

    Melissa pulled her scarf tighter around her

    “At least it is not raining”. She said.

    Bob changed down and they swung around yet
    another bend. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask “Are we there yet?” like
    the children always did. She refrained.

    “Geoff said it was two miles down Highway 2
    and then a right onto gravel for about half a mile. The Farmhouse is through
    the gates.”

    “I could ring them and see if we have
    missed the turn off” Melissa offered.

    Bob just grunted.

    There was a moon she thought up there
    somewhere – she could see its light shining through he clouds but not its

    Thump! She was jerked forward against the
    seatbelt, the brakes squealed.

    “What was it?” She gasped “Did we hit

    “Possum I think.”

    “It was a big bump!”

    “This is a little car.”

    “You better check.”

    “Yeah I don’t want her damaged. I knew this
    rally was a bit of a stretch for her. Geoff assured me there would be no gravel
    roads.” He unbuckled and climbed out of the MG.

    “What about what you hit?” Melissa

    He couldn’t hear her – he was on his knees
    checking the paintwork, the tires, his precious chrome bumper.

    Melissa sighed and looked back – the road
    was dark. She felt uneasy. They should have left earlier, it was her fault but
    the other wives had all gone shopping and there had been a darling craft shop.

    Bob climbed back in.  “It was just a possum – dead” he said.

    • Katie Axelson

      I got nervous when he was out of the car checking it… and I live in the country. Great post, Juliana. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tom Wideman

      Great job, Juliana. I loved the line, “It was on the tip of her tongue to ask ‘Are we there yet?'” I don’t necessarily think you needed to add “like the children always did.” Thanks for posting.

    • Marianne

      Good dialogue and a good mix of action, dialogue and a little description.  I like this kind of mix and kind of pace.  

  11. wendy2020

    Sounds like a great exercise.  Hopefully, I’ll be back responding soon.  My characters have been driving me towards entering a writing contest, and so I’ve been taking the side road doing that.

    It does feel a bit like driving without headlamps, after having been so fortunate to find this writing blog that offers up critique.  Writing without it has been  like driving in a town that you know is full of one-way streets, but you don’t know which roads they are or which direction is right or wrong.

    Anyone else feel that way with their WIP?

    • Katie Axelson

      I love that you continued the analogy. And I love The Write Practice atmosphere. I look forward to reading your practice.

  12. Maria Cisneros Toth

    Excellent post with some good advice! I’m not a plotter. Horrible with outlines. So, I let my character take the wheel, though, as you mentioned at some point I had to slide behind the wheel and drive/revise (with MC’s help, of course, she’s quite opinionated). Was it worth it? Heck, yeah. Thanks for awesome post!

  13. Mirelba

    I seem to be working on dialog lately, but I actually like working without plot, it’s funny how you can never tell where it will take you. Anyway, here’s my car adventure:  

    The car’s headlights lit up the ribbon of road cutting
    through the dark desert night. 

    “Do you know where we are, Dillon?”

    “You’ve got the map, Jason, maybe you tell me.”

    “I don’t know, that turn we took before should have
    brought us onto 434, but I don’t see any of the landmarks.  We should have passed several towns by

    “This is getting a bit creepy, guys.  Have you realized we haven’t seen a single
    car since we turned onto this road?”

    “Relax, Amanda. 
    We’re just on a side road, that would mean it probably doesn’t see much

    “Much traffic? 
    This is like no traffic.” 
    Amanda glanced out the windows on either side of her.  “I don’t know, I’m getting a bad feeling
    about this, maybe we should just turn around and head back.”

    “Are you crazy? Dillon asked, his hands clenching on
    the wheel.  “We’ve just driven 2
    hours on this road; I’m not turning back to waste all that time.  We’re bound to reach some place soon.”

    “I sure hope so, because I’m hungry, I’m tired and I’ve
    got to go.” Amanda said, her voice rising in pitch.

    “Keep your shirt on, Amanda.  We’ll find some place soon.  Jason, just check the map again.”

    The wind started blowing some tumbleweed their  way, and as the wind picked up speed they could hear
    it howling outside their windows.

    “Guys, I have really got to go,” Amanda said in a
    small voice.

    “Can’t it wait?” Dillon threw an angry glance over
    his shoulder.  He could see that Amanda’s
    eyes were overflowing already.  The tears
    seemed to carve a route through the dust on her cheeks.

    “Okay,” he said. 
    He let out a small sigh as he pulled over to the side of the road.  “Just make it quick.”

    “Don’t go far,” said Jason.

    “Are you kidding? 
    I’m not going anywhere, you guys just turn your backs and look the other

    They did. 
    “Jason, maybe give me the map. I bet I can figure out where we

    “Be my guest, Dillon. 
    I wouldn’t even care if you won the bet.”

    Dillon snorted as he pored over the map.  He couldn’t quite figure out where they could
    be.  He flashed his penlight over the map
    bit by bit, but nothing seemed to make sense.”

    “Amanda,” Jason called.  “Aren’t you finished yet?”

    There was only silence. 

    Jason and Dillon looked out the side of the car- all they
    could see was the desert stretching out, Amanda was no where to be seen.

    • Annabelle Orfield

       Wow! Very nice…poor Amanda! 

    • Mirelba

      Yes, poor thing. I wonder what happened to her…

    • Katie Axelson

      Nice, Mirelba! I wanted to know more about the bet. Dialogue’s my favorite to write too just make sure you’re mixing in exposition (for the sake of the practice it works but for future reference).

    • Mirelba

      Actually, I’m trying to work more on dialogue now, because my tendency is to write just exposition. I have to remind myself to stop telling. So no danger of something ending up all dialogue 🙂 Thanks for the feedback.

    • Katie Axelson

      Good for you for challenging yourself 🙂

    • Mirelba

      I guess if we’re serious, it’s the only way to get ahead and improve.

    • John Fisher

      Great, thoroughly believable dialog.  All of the conflict between characters is true-to-life too.  

      It’s hard to find an aspect I don’t like, per instructions — maybe Amanda’s saying she isn’t going anywhere, the guys have to just turn their heads and not look — and then Jason having to call to her — maybe that needs a bit of tweaking.  Was she far enough away to call to, or just leaning out the door on the other side?

    • Mirelba

      Thanks! The idea wasn’t that she went anywhere, just that she stepped out of the car and disappeared. Not sure yet of the details, I went with the flow.

    • Ernest


    • Mirelba

      Thanks! I like writing plotless. I wonder where this would take me if I continued …

    • Ernest

      doubtlessly somewhere great!


    • Mirelba

      LOL. Thanks for the moral support. Problem is, since this was done plotless, I have no idea what happened to her. Are we supposed to continue and hope we come up with answers as we go along? However, there is still where to go before I have to come up with a solution. Interesting to experiment further.

    • Ernest

      definitely make it more mysterious… a good mystery is always much more intriguing than anything else!!


    • Apollos Holmes

       Nice build up of suspense. Great job.

    • Mirelba


    • Tom Wideman

      This is great, Mirelba! The dialogue is very realistic and it tells the story so well. This reminds me of the stories we would hear on the radio in the car. I’m dying to know what happened to Amanda. 

    • Kate Hewson

      OMG scary!!! Great writing.

    • Marianne

      What great dialog.  The story reminded me of “The Twilight Zone” . 

    • Jeff Ellis

      The dialog itself is solid, but one thing keeps it from being believable: Your characters use each other’s names in almost every line. 

      People simply don’t talk this way. Not if they’ve known each other longer than a few minutes. When you introduce the name of your characters in the first line directed at them, it’s as if you’re literally saying to your reader, “Okay everybody. This guy’s name is Dillon,” which is poor writing and keeps your dialog from hitting its mark. 

      Readers want to be absorbed in the world of your story and things like this detract from the escapism by failing to sell the reality of your characters. It’s a note I would get often in my own dialog and when I stopped doing it I found that, not only did my writing improve, but my readers were still able to follow along as far as who was who.

      Don’t shy away from introducing your character’s names in your narration. ” ‘Do you know where we are?’ Jason asked,” establishes Jason’s name without sacrificing any realism in your dialog. Read your characters’ lines out loud and ask yourself if it sounds accurate. It will help you loads. I promise.

      Other than that, I think you have a well written scene here. Keep up the good work! 

    • Mirelba

      Thanks for your input, I appreciate that you took the time to point it out to me.

  14. Gracen

    ‘Macy, are you about ready to take the wheel?  I need to hit the sack.’  Jo put his face in front of the air vent, trying to let the cool blast wake him up. 
    As he shook his head drowsily and straightened his position in the seat, his hands mimicked his head movement and the wheel jerked into the side lane for a moment.  He quickly corrected his direction and grinned sheepishly at the girl beside him.  Disappointment crossed his face when he saw she had fallen asleep, reclined against the cool glass window.
    He laughed a little, trying to juggle following the blinding car-lights in front and watching the air conditioner play with Macy’s brown hair.
    It wasn’t a minute before he jerked and swerved again.
    This time, he was a little angry.  Why had she fallen asleep?  Didn’t she like him at all?  He thought inviting her on this road trip would make her open up about all the inviting texts and flirtatious hints she’d been giving him all Spring semester.  He’d been over the moon when she suggested she sit up front, but now Jo suspected it was just to get the best seat in the cool of the A.C.  And she’d hogged the radio.  She’d defended his taste in music before, but wouldn’t even put up with a minute of his Chopin cd.  She’d almost rolled her eyes when she jerked it out and inserted her iPod, flipping through songs like magazines.  And when he’d even suggested they listen to his cd maybe for a while now that they’d browsed her entire iTunes library, she’d given him that look he thought only his mom could do.
    But then when it got dark and she got quiet and the others fell asleep, he’d poured out his heart like a pitcher of sweet iced tea.  She’d listened so kindly and he even thought she looked like she was crying when he talked about his sister’s death.  But now she was being completely inconsiderate–by taking the seat of the copilot, she’d practically signed on for the job of driving when Jo needed a break.
    Jo was fuming, thinking about how sorry they’d all be when they crashed to their death when he had a bright thought. 
    He pulled over to the side of the road, got out, and opened Macy’s door.  ‘Hey, can you wake up for a minute?  I need you to drive.’  Macy slumped against him and, as he pushed her back into her seat, he saw white earbuds trailing from each ear.  ‘What! That’s it!  You haven’t even heard a word I said!’
    Then he did it.
    He clenched his jaw, unbuckled Macy, and pulled her onto the ground.  Slammed the door shut and locked.  ‘Hey, what do you think you’re doing, Jo?!  What a jerk!’ 
    He restarted the van and rolled down her window.
    ‘Yeah, you are!’ he yelled and threw her purse at her.
    ‘You can’t leave me here!’  Macy spat.
    ‘Watch me.’
    He took one last good look at Macy and punched it. 
    It was looking to be a great road trip after all.

    • Katie Axelson

      Woah. That was unexpected. Watch your point of view when he kicks her out of the car. You don’t slip into her POV but hearing her speak made me do it. Thanks, Gracen!

    • Zoe Beech

      This was good… I really loved the line ‘he poured out his heart like a pitcher of sweet iced tea’… and then the irony of her with earplugs as he did it, poor guy!

  15. John Fisher

    Dennie stretched expansively behind the wheel.  “This is the first time I’ve driven a car in four years!  I just wanted to remember what it’s like.”  They were on the way back in from a run, and Dennie had hectored and wheedled until Jim finally pulled over and let him take the wheel.  The quiet hum of Jim’s eleven-year-old Cavalier escalated to a protesting whine as Dennie pushed it past the speed limit by ten m.p.h.  “C’mon, Dennie, man, slow down . . . ”

    And that’s when the change began.  The entire car began to swell, expand, the seats raking back on a new angle, the entire feel of the car altering.  Lengthening.  The non-descript grey fabric of the interior changed with a rustle to black rolls and pleats of vinyl.   Jim looked over at Dennie, whose eyes were bulging as the small, fat, modern steering wheel swanned into the slim, elegant, fifteen-inch steering wheel of a late 1950s Impala, complete with the six-holed chrome centerpiece with the crossed checkered flags.  The hood and front fenders in front of them ballooned out into the massive 1958 model in black lacquer that reflected the street lights, the chrome fender ornaments unique to that year immediately recognizable to Jim.  The whine of the four-cylinder deepened,  masculinized into the burble of a big-block V8 with slim, fiberglass-packed mufflers.  Dennie took his foot off the gas in amazement.  “What the –”

    But that wasn’t the extent of the transformation.  The landscaped median of the city boulevard they had been driving on faded quickly and vanished, and the broad thoroughfare was replaced by the two-lane, humped, country-town road that had pre-dated all of the past fifty years of urban development.  Instead of Wal-Mart and PAYDAY LOANS and Metro PCS, here was the Rexall Drug, the Chuck-wagon B-B-Q, the Kingsley Church o’ Christ the OLD building not the new one — this road was once again the way it had been when Jim was in grade-school!  The feeling in his stomach passed queasiness and entered the zone of nausea.  “Hey, Denny, pull over, man — ”

    But Dennie was digging on the feel of all that horsepower thrumming through the steering column and the accelerator.  “Heyyyyyyyyyyy, baby, I wonder what this ol’ girl’ll DO?”  and, being Dennie, he pressed the accelerator to the floor.  The transmission grabbed a passing gear, and the burble became the full-throated roar of the early muscle car.  The lights of the long-extinct businesses and residences melted into a liquid stream, and Jim decided this was it.

    Not a bad way to go out, he told himself.  Not too bad.  If he had to go out.  

    Mamaaaaaa . . . .

    • Katie Axelson

      I like the unexpectedness of your piece, John

    • Marianne

      Amazing John.  Your characters certainly did go to an unexpected place.  Great details, with the 60s kind of stuff, the car and Rexall drugs and the two-lane road.  That was fast and exciting.  

    • John Fisher

      Thanks so much!

    • Christine Niles

      Very cool!  I like the transformation, and as Marianne said, the details really bring it home.  I want to know what triggered it, and how Jim knew what was coming…

      The only things that really pulled me out of it were the lines “And that’s when the change began” and then “But that was’t the extent of the transformation.”  I think it works better without those.

    • John Fisher

      Thank you Christine, and you’re absolutely right, now that I look at it, the two sentences you mention don’t need to be there! 

      I think Jim has an inkling what’s coming because he has a long-standing sense of impending doom hanging over his life, as well as a feeling of being chained to things in his past.   And I need to develop and articulate those further.  Thanks again!

  16. Ernest

    The approaching lights grew hazy as his eyes grew heavier. His fatigue was evident from the haggard look of his face. The eyes, with fully formed bags below them, were blood-shot. His unkempt hair didn’t do much to improve his countenance. It seemed as if a homeless man was driving the Rolls-Royce.

    Coming back from his office at about 11 p.m. David was one of the last people to exit the building. The silence that his mind desired so very much would at last be his when he reached home. Or will it? His wife was a drunken bitch leaching on his hard earned money and depleting his funds to quench her insatiable desire of drowning in narcotics.

    The freezing wind  brought tears to his eyes as he moved his head closer to the window and looked out of it. 

    Suddenly, he stepped on the brake pedal with a maddening force having spotted some object right in front of him at the very last minute. The car stopped with a screech. He quickly wiped his eyes off and sprang out hoping to God that no one got hurt. 

    Seeing the obstacle on the road he realized that it was a bundle of clothes with a small child placed comfortably within. It lay there in solace, sleeping soundly, even after the screeching of the abruptly stopped car. He sighed in relief but wondered why was a baby lying in the middle of the road and why hadn’t the babe awoken even after such a loud noise. Was he dead? David’s curiosity took the better of him as he set his doubts aside and bent down to pick up the kid.

    Now, safely clasped in David’s grip, the baby opened its eyes suddenly and gave a yelp of joy. Just as his heart was about to melt, it hardened in shock as the child slowly turned green, with strikingly blue eyes, and fangs such as only seen on a snake. David dropped with a yelp of surprise but it seemed to have grown 2 strong feet, enough to support the 3 heads and the 120 or so kilos of bulk around his belly that had sprouted out of nowhere.

    He took a step back to move away from the growing “thing”.

    ‘I really must get some sleep’ he thought as he shook his head in disbelief. Just then he was pulled down with a herculean force to the ground and got up to face the floor of his shanty room.

    • Katie Axelson

      This is quite creepy, Ernest. Well-written but if some baby-snake thing appears in my dreams tonight I blame you. 🙂

    • Ernest

      why, thank you!  ;->

    • Marianne

      That was scary.  I wondered why it gave a “yelp” of joy since and infant doesn’t usually yelp, but then it turned into the monster thing.   I don’t understand the end why are they in a shanty room?  I enjoyed reading this.  

    • Ernest

      the guy was dreaming…. he saw himself driving a rolls-royce but the image of his own self didn’t change in his dream (something that happens with me… I may be the guy with all the money and all the girls in the world but the elemental image of me never changes in my dreams.. does it happen with everyone or am i retarded ????) … the shanty room is just to show that the guy’s not rich….

      I believe  the fault, here, is mine for I wasn’t able to get get the point across…. sorry  🙁

      will try to write better next time!! Thanks for reading!!!


  17. Joanna Aislinn

    Great job, Mirelba! And great post, Katie. Thank you! 

  18. RD Meyer

    I have to outline, as that’s my planning.  I find when I try to write without an outline that has given me the general direction in advance, the story is always shallow.

    • Katie Axelson

      That’s exactly why letting the characters drive also requires forcing them to ride sometimes.

  19. Apollos Holmes

    “I just couldn’t believe mom still
    wants us to get her from the mall.” Joshua argued behind the wheel.


    “I’m really tired and my feat is
    close to getting numb.”


    “Hold on for a little longer bro.”
    said Monina.


    “We’ll be there in a little while,
    and soon home.”


    While both brother and sister where
    cruising along the express way. A white pickup truck suddenly passed behind


    “Whoah, look at that!” Joshua
    gasped. “Where?” asked Monina.


    “There at the white pickup truck up
    front, look at its plate number! Can you read it? It says ANA 900.”


    “Wow! really? You know I can’t see
    clearly get a little closer.”


    “I usually don’t believe in
    superstitions, but this is really weird.” said Joshua.


    During the day both of them were
    preparing the place for their nephew’s 3rd birthday and now they’re
    driving behind a car with their recently deceased sister’s name – Anna.


    “Talk about coincidences. We’re
    driving in front of a car that has our sister’s name on its plate number on a
    day before her only son’s birthday. This is something else.” thought Joshua.
    “Take a pic. Monina.”


    “Yeah I also thought about that.
    Wait a minute just stay behind him.”


    Joshua stayed behind the pickup
    truck as long as he can. He passed and overtook every other car just to be
    behind the white pickup truck. Finally Monina got the shot; unfortunately it
    was blurred because of the other headlights coming from other cars.


    “Well so much for being weird” Joshua
    said. “Yeah, even weirder is the feeling of the one driving the pickup truck,
    He must be wacked up because he thinks he’s being followed. hahaha.” joked


    Both laughed as they exited the
    expressway and on towards the mall.


    • Katie Axelson

      My favorite line is the last bit of dialogue

    • Marianne

      That was an interesting take on the writing prompt.  I thought they were going to get in a wreck following the truck, trying to get a picture of the license.  

  20. Zoe Beech

    They didn’t need a radio to have a good time.  No sir, Billy was raised on a good diet of country music and sunshine, and he kept the party alive.  The only time nobody laughed when Billy was around was when he was drunk, and he knew better.

    Jessie tugged on Billy’s cowboy hat, ‘Country road, country road!’

    He didn’t need to be asked twice.  In five minutes the car was shaking with Sweet Home Alabama, and Jessie had scooted closer to Billy, as close as she could get without sitting on his lap.  She was just waiting for him to ask.  

    She was the only one who noticed Billy slip his hand into his pocket and glug something from a small bottle.  He winked at her, and patted his knees, so she ignored the smell of whisky as she put his hands around her waist.  

    Sue and Mike rolled open the windows and warm sea air blasted through the little car.  They laughed and Jessie joined in, but she stopped suddenly when she realised Billy wasn’t laughing.  He wasn’t singing either.

    ‘Aaah, Billy,’ she said, leaning her head on her chest.  She wasn’t prepared for what happened next.  Billy shoved her off his lap and started swearing.  The vilest and most disgusting words he could think of.  

    Nobody said a word as the car sped up, Mike’s knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel.  They all knew what’d happened.  

    ‘You said you wouldn’t, Bill.’ Mike said.

    Billy kicked Mike’s chair with both shoes, screaming wildly.  Jessie inched as far away from him as she could.  He’d been known to  hate women after more than one drink.

    Mike slammed the brakes. The suddenness, the screech and smell of burning rubber brought Billy back.  But it was too late.  Mike opened the car door, grabbed him by the checked shirt and threw him towards the bushes.

    ‘Find your own way back home,’ Mike yelled as Jess watched Billy’s back fade into the night.

    • Katie Axelson

      I like the storyline you’ve got here, Zoe. At first I struggled to figure out the seating arrangement in the car. I thought Billy was driving.

    • Zoe Beech

      Thanks Katie!  You’re right, it was confusing!  Honestly I wasn’t completely happy with this piece, but when I wanted to erase it, it didn’t let me, so oh well, there’s the first draft Anne Lamott talked about! 😉

    • Katie Axelson

      I’m glad you didn’t erase it. You have to start somewhere. 🙂

    • Marianne

      That was great Zoe.  Billy’s sudden change in demeanor when he drinks is chilling. 

    • Zoe Beech

      Thanks Marianne!!  Welcome back!!  So great having you here again… I haven’t been around a whole lot recently but looking forward to reading your work! 🙂 

  21. Jeff Ellis

    Okay, fifteen minutes was not enough for how much fun I was having with this piece, but I try to abide by the rules. The tense waivers back and forth between present and past, which is a big no-no that I am trying to weed out of my writing, and the ending is unsatisfactory. Regardless, I hope you all enjoy it. I will likely post a revised edition on my blog 🙂

    The cone of his headlights cut through the black of the moonless night. They painted his path for him. Let him know the next step. It was all he had. 

    “Too far isn’t far enough…,” he thought.

    In the mountains he could breathe again. Why did he ever leave? He told himself that he drove up to Big Bear to get away, but it felt more as if he were returning home. Returning to the road. Was it the mountain he really loved? Or the road? Or maybe just the momentum?

    A girl walking in the dark sped away from his vision as he jerked the car a little too hard to the left. He nearly died, but his guardian angel flies faster than he can ever drive. With shaky hands and a thumping heart he pulls over to the side of the road. Looks back, but it’s only blackness. 

    Deep breath. He opens the door and steps out, looking back into the dark.

    “Hello!?” he shouts.

    “Yeah! You okay?”

    The girl is running. Obviously worried she just caused a wreck. 

    “Yeah, I’m fine. Are you okay? Shit. I almost killed you. Shouldn’t you be wearing reflectors or something?”

    “Maybe,” she laughs and steps into his field of view. Cute. Young. She shouldn’t be out here like this. 

    “What the hell are you doing out here, anyway?” he asks.

    “Hitching. You wanna give me a lift?” When she smiles there’s a little more light in the world.

    “Yeah, sure. You headin’ up to Big Bear?” 

    She puts her finger on her nose. Bingo. Her backpack is so heavy it rocks his car when she throws it in the trunk. 

    He opens her door for her, which she rolls her eyes at and swings into the passenger seat. When he’s back inside she looks him over with a scrutinizing gaze. “So you gonna kill me? Wear my skin or somethin’?”

    “What the fuck? God. No.” He starts up the car and returns to the road. “Though I hope you at least have a knife on you. You never know what kind of shit creepy old men might try to pull on a lone mountain road.”

    She squints her eyes, as if to get a better look at him, then nods. He has her approval. There will be no murdering on either end.

    “So why you makin’ the run for Big Bear at four in the morning?” she asks. 

    “Who says I’m running?”

    “The clock,” she smirks and taps the glowing green 4:36 for emphasis. “No one drives a mountain road at four a.m. unless they’re trying to get away.” 

    “How do you know I’m not heading home?” he asks.

    “Because I’ve never seen you before.”

    “You live in Big Bear?”

    “Yeah. Since I was a kid.” She stares out the passenger window, leaning her forehead against the glass.

    He drums on the driving wheel without rhythm. “Well I’m not running…”

    • Marianne

      I think this is excellent writing.  The dialogue is believable, the description is spare but yields a clear picture and the rhythm makes it easy to read and the story moves forward quickly.  The only two things I didn’t like are the third and forth sentences of the first paragraph because I think they are unnecessary and “over make” you point about how the headlights are the only illumination.   The other thing is the sentence about the guardian angle. It just doesn’t fit for me. 

    • Jeff Ellis

      Re-reading it, I agree with you on both parts Marianne. Thanks so much for the critique and I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

    • Kate Hewson

      I guess it is subjective – I liked the guardian angel thing…

    • Katie Axelson

      I liked the fun spin on an old cliche too

    • Kate Hewson

      Damn that clock, I want to know more!

    • Jeff Ellis

      Me too Kate, haha. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough some times.

    • Christine Niles

      Nice, Jeff.  I liked how natural it felt as the connection between the two shifted from caution to comfort…I feel like a connection was made and the two of them are in for some kind of adventure.  And since at the beginning it’s clear that he is running, but he tells her he’s not, I’m curious about his story.  

      The inconsistency in tense is something I do in vomit-drafts, too. I stopped trying to adjust as I go…that’s pretty easily fixed, and not worth losing ideas/flow to that internal editor in your head.As for the guardian angel thing, I got it, but it took a second.  In the edit, that could be fleshed out a little more to be a little more clear…did the car nearly flip? what did that feel like? more about the danger/risk of the swerve and the role of the angel.

    • Jeff Ellis

      Thanks for reading Christine! I agree with you about the internal editor taking a back seat for first passes, but I am ever the perfectionist and sometimes it’s difficult to just let it go, haha. 

    • Katie Axelson

      Thanks for playing by the rules, Jeff, but if the words are flowing, go on past 15 minutes. The practice is just to get your started. 😉

    • Jeff Ellis

      Thanks Katie, I’ll let loose the next time inspiration strikes me during a practice 🙂

  22. Suzie Gallagher

    He didn’t use puppies or sweets, but a huge teddy bear called Gussie. The girl sitting in the back of the car being watched by Gussie as he sped away from the city. Night was creeping up on them and the girl woke.

    Dazed she asked where they were, he passed her a lollipop, “laced with happiness”, he told her. She smiled bravely and rested in Gussie’s arms. Quietly she dropped back to sleep.

    He drove within the speed limit now, he did not want to be stopped for speeding, he didn’t want to be stopped at all. He had planned this night for so long. Watching the ballet class for months, waiting to see which children were not collected on time. The girl fitted so well. Her mother looked forgetful and harassed, always late with a different man in the seat next to her each month and two other smaller children in the back. 

    There was always some drama, the children cried or screamed. The girl stayed quiet, always doing her mother’s bidding. On the third week he discovered her name was Angelica, it suited her angelic Angelica angel. She was petite, small for her age he guessed with bright auburn hair. 

    He wondered if she got called carrot top at school. It was so easy to take her. He pulled up a couple of weeks ago and asked Angelica a question about her mother, mentioning Gussie. Last week he pulled up, got out and spoke a few sentences with her, again talking about her mother and including her brothers too. This week he had rolled the window down and shouted to her to hurry and get in her mother was running late.

    He gave her a laced lollipop and settled down to getting out of the city as quickly as possible. And now he drove in the dark, his headlights piercing the black. All the planning had been to this point. He had the girl, Angelica, he’d escaped the city.

    With all the planning, he realised now, he had expected something to go wrong. Because he had no plan now. He wasn’t sure where to go and what to do next. On the internet at the sites he visited they knew what to do next…

  23. EdBraz

    Tubby Jim coasted calmly through a well lit main road.  His pal, Dan, picked his nose
    discreetly and feigned he was checking his nails. 

    ‘It’s going to really piss her off.’ Muttered Jim.

    ‘What is?’ replied Dan distractedly.

    ‘That I didn’t call her to say I wouldn’t be back for
    dinner.  Bitch.’ Jim sniped.

    Dan let out something between a hrrumph and a chuckle before
    snorting violently.  He wound the window
    down, hawked up some phlegm, pursed his lips together and spat. 

    ‘Well you gotta get her under control.  You can’t have her telling you when you
    can come and when you can go.  Fuck

    There was something harsh in Dan’s curse that made Jim
    flinch.  He could say what he liked
    about his wife, but, when it came from his old friend, he felt it was an
    infringement onto his territory. 

    ‘I have got her under control.  She doesn’t control me.  Where am I now? 
    Not at home…’

    Despite Jim’s words, Dan sensed he wasn’t totally satisfied
    with being out with his old friend. 
    The car passed into a side street that was less well lit.  They were stopping by a bar they used
    to go to together when they were some kilos lighter and some years
    younger.  It looked empty save for
    a few barflies sipping cheap beer. 
    The car floated eerily to a halt. 
    Dan got out before Jim and quickly slammed the door.  Jim sat lifeless in his seat and let
    the engine run for a while.  He
    watched as Dan sat at the bar with the barflies and glanced back puzzled at him
    before ordering his beer.  It was
    going to be a long night, thought Jim. 
    Never again. 



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