bITS 'N CHUNKS
So while I was going over a piece of work and trying to decide if I want to continue on with it, I noticed a funny quirk I have with using cars to signify status and time period.
I've noticed it before, at some point it was on purpose and thereafter just became a habit. To me, short story plots move so fast sometimes that you don't have a lot of time to say, "The year was 1997" or "this dude is mad poor". How do you signify that? By dropping clues. Some clues can be obvious like clothing or hairstyles, or even names. When I'm writing "pedestrian" aka regular degular (that is, not anything high fantasy or dystopian sci-fi), I'm not sure why I usually pick cars and music specifically as I'm not really a car person and rely more on public transport (which ALSO says something about the status of a person), but I have found that using certain models and describing the interior of the vehicle does a lot for setting and characterization.
So to be more specific, name dropping a certain car or its condition does a few things for me: establishes financial status, establishes what time frame and area the story likely takes place in, what KIND of story, and says something important about the character. In a high school story, the popular rich kid might be driving X car and the low-class, ostracized kid might be driving Y kid or likely not driving at all. Or remember that car that was super popular in Nevada in the '90s? Things like that.
I'll pick on myself with this infernal goddamn thing I've been working on. The protag's car is dropped pretty early on in a gym visit:
The Toyota Camry pulled into the small parking lot.
Now, when I do this I'm not expecting future or present literary students to scrutinize all the ways in which the car is significant. In the end, it's not. But mentioning a Camry does a couple things. He has a car, it is expected that he does, we're in a world with vehicles, probably on Earth in the US. Ok, that's established. Dude's probably making decent money and doing alright for himself. Middle class, wouldn't you say? Also Camrys are known for being pretty durable. In context of the story though it raises a couple points: I'm not saying Camrys are the most expensive car in the world, but this dude does not have a steady job, where the hell did he get one?
Duncan tugged the bottom of the mask down and turned on the unreliable AC in his car. It sputtered worryingly before blowing out hot dust. Duncan rolled his window down until the air was at least lukewarm. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he drove. His car was top of the line at some point but now it was so old he needed an adapter for his iPod. Oh, he listened to tapes every now and then -- especially mom's old music and books on tape from when he was a kid. Sometimes he could get Japanese radio dramas.
Again, the basics. Ok, if you're turning on the AC it's summer and we're in a hot ass area. Uh-oh, sounds like homie has a real old Camry that's on its last legs. He likely either bought it incredibly used WYSIWYG, someone bought it for him, or it's a legacy car passed down like three times. Makes sense given his status of perpetually right above the poverty line. The point was for me not to tell you that, though, but to give you a little context and show you.
The car makes another brief cameo later on in this exchange between the protag and the antag:
"I can see everything going on with ya. How're you even paying rent on that apartment?"
"I work," Duncan said indignantly. "I work pretty damn often."
"Yeah, yeah. Dad works too. Do you think daddy is going to support you for long?"
And we establish that the protag is broke as hell even if his family is well-off and at least distantly supporting him.
Naturally, the villain of the story has his own vehicle(s). I grappled with its introduction a little and decided at least for now it doesn't actually matter what model or brand of car it has.
A glossy black limousine with dark windows passed him with nary a purr or rumble or even the crunch of thick tires on the street.
Originally the car was explicitly a custom Jaguar, and if that doesn't scream "money" I don't know what does. Jaguars also tend to have a distinctive rumble which, when missing, sounds like something is amiss which is a plot point with this villain. Another plot point with it is that he's very rich and manipulative and flaunts his status items while enjoying base pleasures like pizza and non-alcoholic beer. Having a limousine alone already implies you have some kind of money to blow. It's black and sleek so it already feels a little sinister. You might recognize these tropes together and come to your own conclusion that this villain is either very closely related to the Devil if not the Devil himself, a la Needful Things. Incidentally, which writing this passage I think I was channeling In the Company of Wolves.
The limousine window rolled down just enough for a slender hand wearing a white glove, holding a cigarette.
Which I think pretty much cements the intent without doing a whole lot, and that's what I'm all about.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...