Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Musings On the Open Road

I recently drove from Southern California to Seattle to visit my mother for her 95th birthday. (Yay, Mom! Happy Birthday!) Okay I didn't actually do the driving. My husband prefers that honor while I’d rather be the navigator/passenger. That's 24 hours or so of driving if you go the I-5 route, which we did on the way up. On the way back, we drove down the Oregon and California coasts until we got to around San Francisco where we cut inland and did the rest of the trip on I-5. (Side note here. It’s very odd for me to refer to I-5 as I-5. When I’m here in So. Cal., I refer to it as “the 5” as everyone else does down here. That’s a whole other, and interesting, story. You can read the origins of this here:

As you might guess, there's lots of time to muse over things on that long a drive. Yes, we did talk and listen to a couple of the Cat Who books on tape (really, tape, our car is old enough to have a tape deck). Sometimes, though, it was just nice to watch the scenery go by and muse over random things. Here are my musings:

Until I became a writer, I didn’t really think that much about sand on beaches. How there’s a lot of different colors and textures around the world. Yes, I’ve been to all sorts of beaches, in the South Pacific (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora), the Caribbean, East Coast of the U.S., up and down the West Coast of the U.S., Hawaii, Mexico and the Gulf Coast of Florida. I remember there being differences, but it wasn’t until I started writing my mystery series set in the fictional Los Angeles County beach city of Vista Beach, did I think about how to describe the sand. Now when I visit areas, I notice things more.
Somewhere along the coast of Oregon

Like how the sand on the beach here, where I live, is a light brown color and can get very hot when the air temperature is hot and is very hard to walk on. But the sand on the Gulf Coast of Florida is coarser and lighter in color and, even when the temperature was in the 90s, it was still fairly cool and easier to walk on. On this trip, I noticed the sand along the Oregon coast, which is very fine, but more of a gray color than brown. These are important differences for a writer. If you write a story that features a beach and you get the details wrong, someone’s going to notice.

The next thing I thought about on this trip was how something is phrased can affect behavior. Think about it. Doesn’t “I need to talk WITH you” sound better than “I need to talk TO you”? Don’t you dread a little bit more the “to” phrasing?

In California and Oregon I noticed a difference between signs along U.S. 101. In Oregon, it’s “Keep Right Except to Pass”. You know what, that’s what everyone did. Kept right as a default and only got into the left lane when passing. But, as soon as we crossed into California, it became “Slower Traffic Keep Right”. Same thing really, but now more cars stayed in the left lane as a default. I mean, really, does anyone want to admit that their vehicle is “slower” than others? Okay, maybe this is a little silly, but I really did see a behavior difference. And I have no doubt that how something is phrased can produce behavior differences in people.

So that’s what this writer thought about on a long driving trip. What do you all ponder on the open road?


Donis Casey said...

It just goes to show how subtly language can affect behavior, and how the slightest coloration of a phrase can change the meaning. Quite a lesson for a writer. And happiest of birthdays to your mother!

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks, Donis. I'll pass on your birthday wishes.