As I sat in the mechanic’s waiting room, I considered that, for some lucky people, cars transcend mere transportation. For those who can afford it, their wheels are a fashion statement, an accessory, an image they present to the world.
Writers show who a character is by what they say, think, do, and what others say about them. Some authors also show us a character’s personality by what what the character drives. Picture James Bond dodging assassins' bullets as he corkscrews down an alpine highway in his Aston Martin; Nancy Drew speeding down Main Street in River Heights in her roadster; Mickey Haller of Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car. Then picture Bond in a Prius; Nancy in a rehabbed hearse with Grateful Dead bumper stickers; the Lincoln Lawyer in a rusting minivan. Doesn’t work, does it? For some characters, their vehicles are an extension of their personality.
What else would an erudite, opera loving Oxford detective drive? Look at this photo of the maroon Jaguar MKII driven in the Inspector Morse series. The book series opened with Morse driving a Lancia, but the Jag was chosen for the TV series and made its way into the books. Try to picture Morse in a Mini or a muscle car or even a Range Rover. No, I can’t picture it either.
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum drives a series of lemons she calls “POS” cars that do more than underscore Stephanie’s precarious financial situation. Her readers look forward to the disasters that await her cars, turning her wheels into plot points that often throw her into the vehicles (and arms) of her dangerously desirable rescuer, Ranger. Ranger’s cars are all gleaming black Porches and SUVs, underscoring his mysterious, hypermasculine competence.
Like Stephanie, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone’s broken down VW shows us not only Kinsey’s precarious financial situation, but also her toughness. Kinsey and the car keep going, even when life and the road get difficult.
For many characters, their personalities are reflected in the different kinds of wheels they use to get around. Jessica Fletcher, the author/sleuth star of Murder, She Wrote, doesn’t drive, and travels around Cabot Cove by bike. This quirk underscores her can-do personality. Jessica gets around, literally, under her own steam. On the Criminal Element blog, Donald Bain said he forgot this and had Jessica rent a car in his first book in the Murder, She Wrote series. Fans did not let him forget it.
What does your main character drive?