Hey there, where ya goin’?
Not exactly knowin’
Who says you have to call just one place home?
He’s goin’ everywhere
B.J. McKay and his best friend Bear
Thus began the catchy jingle to a late 1970’s television show B. J. and the Bear. Born from the popularity of movies like Smokey and the Bandit, the show followed the lighthearted adventures of a truck driver and his chimpanzee companion. The freeness of an open life on the road spoke to many – apparently not enough, though, as the show only lasted a couple of seasons.
I’m in the contemplation stage of a new novel project. I’m just beginning to hash out the general plot and the main characters. For one of the major players, I’m toying with the idea of placing him or her (have not yet settled on the gender) as a truck driver. That freedom of driving anywhere and everywhere echoes the nature of the character I am trying to develop.
Whenever I create a character, a scene, or a plot element, I strive for realism. While B. J. McKay was entertaining, I assumed the depiction did not emulate the the true life of a truck driver. Still, my knowledge of the trade is quite limited, constrained by my own passenger vehicle driving experiences and sensationalized versions of drivers as represented in pop culture. While I respect the application of the laws of physics on these monstrous rigs and yield appropriately, the life of a truck driver is foreign to me.
One of the cool aspects of creating worlds through the written world is the opening of doors to learning about life outside of our limited individual experiences. Today I have spent perhaps an aggregate of an hour during lunch and after work researching the truck drivers’ world and am already astonished. The sacrifices one makes for such an important – no, a critical component of our economic and life existence cannot be overstated. These men and women basically forgo a regular home life so we can have everything at our fingertips – eggs, iPhones, aspirin, basketballs, furniture, cars, hot water heaters, lumber, newspaper, computers – our life.
Yet almost daily, I see some of my pedestrian drivers visibly upset at truck drivers. Many of them also appear not to understand the basic laws of physics as well. Don’t cut a rig off and slam on the brakes!
Truck drivers’ pay has apparently stagnated over the past two decades, while the economy has, over the same period, flourished (Great Recession included). Yet many take to the roads sometimes seven days a week to drive ten hours to make a living – and make our living. I can’t help but think it takes a special kind of devotion to choose such a life.
But this blog is about writing, not to extol the life of a big rig truck driver. Heck, at this point I’m not even sure if I have the profession’s descriptor correct, and if I don’t, I apologize – I remember vividly when I learned not to call a pipefitter a plumber. To bring a realistic life to the character I am contemplating, one must research. When writing – be it an indie novelist with light book sales or a highly followed author who can command six or seven figures per work – getting all story elements correct is necessary. One-dimensional characters do not advance a plot; they smother it.
So where are ya goin’ with your work? For me, I’m not sure yet. I don’t know at this early stage of the novel development if the character will end up as a big rig driver or something else. Still, I will never look at the pilot of one of those awesome transports the same again. Such is a benefit of writing – the opportunities to learn about the world we all coexist in – but only if we allow ourselves the privilege.
Photo – Screen capture of the opening to B.J. and the Bear S1E3