Write the first 2 paragraphs where the only character is a car driving down a road (work on atmosphere, setting). Add a sense of peril or other interest.
During Thursday 1/17/2019 Marion County Writer’s Workshop session we discussed the above challenge. What we learned was vast as the topic drove to many different locations.
Here were a few key sentences by MCWW authors:
A road map marked with a red circle.
Flashes of lightning illuminating skinny trees in the distance.
Gloomy shadows stretched over the hood of the car.
It was once the envy of the fleet. Long and sleek, its smooth black surface buffed to a high sheen. It bore the emblem of its maker, Cadillac.
Gravel crunched under the tires.
The engine wailed.
Wind whistled through the window, broken and stuck open.
Light reflected off the broken windshield, making the cracks look like spider webs.
So what things can help you write to the above challenge?
First, cars can make different noises, but for this challenge we’re going to focus on bad ones.
Phew, this is a lot, and a nice list of things that can make a mechanic sweat.
Road sounds are also great to add to atmosphere, but did you know different types of roads make different sounds?
Here’s a quick guide:
Concrete surfaces are made using a concrete mix of Portland cement, coarse aggregate, sand and water. One of the major advantages of concrete pavements is they are typically stronger and more durable than asphalt roadways. They also can be grooved to provide a durable skid-resistant surface. The road noise of a car traveling 60 MPH is usually around 80 decibels, but it can range between 55 and 80 decibels along a highway. To put this in perspective a quiet living room is usually around 40 decibels, and a loud shout is around 90 decibels.
Road noise also varies according to road condition. A road with more pot holes and cracks will produce a higher decibel of noise.
Open-graded asphalt mixtures are designed to be water-permeable to help remove standing water from the road. Open-graded asphalt mixes can incorporate polymer-modified binders and/or fibers which add durability over a long time. They help to remove standing water from the road surface by allowing it to flow through the mix to the outer edges of the roadway. An added benefit of this porous design is good sound absorption. This is due to the compressed air from the tire being able to escape down through the mixture. The bottom layer contains larger aggregate while the top layer is a finer mix. This finer mix has less macrotexture, reducing contact forces which in turn reduces noise. Noise reduction with these mixes has been measured at the decibel range. Most of the time this application is used for higher traffic suburban roads with road speeds above 45 miles per hour.
Dense-graded asphalt mixtures
Reducing the aggregate size in the wearing surface will generally result in a quieter surface. These mixes sometimes include crumb rubber and/or a polymer binder. This type of mixture gets its sound dampening qualities by having a reduced contact area as well as an increase in flexibility allowing for air to escape at a lower pressure. It has been noted that these types of mixes can reduce road noise by as much as 8 decibels.
Fine-graded surface mixtures
Examples of these types of mixtures or surface treatments are microsurfacing and ultra-thin bonded asphalt surfaces. They can act as road preservation techniques and help reduce noise. These thin-surfaced, gap-graded mixes have less macrotexture which reduces contact areas between the tire and the road creating less noise. Reductions can be seen in the range of 2-5 decibels.
Applying gravel, or "metalling", has had two distinct usages in road surfacing. The term road metal refers to the broken stone or cinders used in the construction or repair of roads or railways, and is derived from the Latin metallum, which means both "mine" and "quarry". "Road metal" later became the name of stone chippings mixed with tar to form the road surfacing material tarmac. A road of such material is called a "metalled road" in Britain, a "paved road" in Canada and the US, or a "sealed road" in parts of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A granular surface can be used with a traffic volume where the annual average daily traffic is 1,200 vehicles per day or less. The noise level produced by a car on a gravel road is higher by 4 decibels than that on a road with asphalt pavement. In summertime, as car speed increases, the noise level rises by 5 decibels.
Level B Roads
These roads are minimally maintained roads for areas of low traffic that do not serve a residence or do not require frequent access. These roads have the biggest ranges of decibel of road noise due to their condition and varying traffic speed. No research has been done on the estimated decibels of road noise. These roads offer the most variation on road noises such as crashes through potholes, grinding on the ridges of ruts, and snaps and crashes over sticks and rocks.
Another part of adding a sense of peril is the things seen from cars. Since the focus of this challenge was peril, I chose to add a few things you’d see specifically see and smell at night.
Things seen with headlights.
Glowing eyes in darkness.
The reflectiveness of a sign.
Passing trees close to the road can make a woosh woosh.
Animals may dart by, but they will only seem to be a color and size. A raccoon, fat cat, and small dog can all look the same when you pass by them in the dark.
Rain makes things blurry.
Snow makes things brighter.
A full moon casts long shadows, but things are more defined.
The reflection of headlights on power lines making the look of little silver ropes.
Stale and dusty from the air vents
Hot and dusty from the heat vents
The last thing discussed when adding a sense of peril was sentence length. This can help put your reader in the correct mood.
Multiple Long Sentences
Multiple long sentences make the story feel drawn out and slow. Imagine a professor giving a boring lecture with one tone of voice. This can be used sparingly to create a slow feel in your story, but too much can make the reader feel they are treading through deep mud.
Multiple Short Sentences
Multiple short sentences give the story a quick feel. This builds action and gives the feeling of movement. Using multiple short sentences in a row can make the reader feel exhausted. Imagine someone who talks really fast and never comes up for air.
Short Sentences with Fragments
Short sentences with sentence fragments add the above description with the feeling of chaos if done too much. This can be a good tool when trying to make the reader feel overwhelmed or confused.
A Combination of the Above
A combination of the all of the above is the most used format. This gives variation creating a natural flow. You can break in using long sentences to slow down the action and then fast ones to speed it up again. This technique is great in manipulating your reader into getting a sense of speed or slowness where needed without having to specifically things like ‘it slowed down’ or ‘it sped up’.