A driving force

I guess the day you renew your driver’s license and they snap that picture that will follow you around for the next 8 years BEFORE you get the black eye qualifies as a good day, right?


Yesterday I had an appointment to go in and prove to the DMV examiner that I knew the difference between a stop sign and a cattle crossing warning so I could continue driving legally. The NC driver’s license office (note: different than the NC auto registration/license plate office) is located in this funky strip mall near a bunch of used car lots and fast food joints. The McDonald’s on the corner has been the scene of several drug busts in the last couple of years. If there were railroad tracks nearby, we’d be on the wrong side of them.

Here’s the roll-call for the strip mall tenants: the ‘anchor’ is a large pawn shop/check cashing/loan center in the middle of the mall. It’s surrounded by a Japanese deli and food shop, a laundromat, a loan company, dance studio, a temporary employment agency. Then there’s the NC license plate office, a Mexican mercado, the NC driver’s license office, two insurance agencies and a hair salon.

I mention this because, while I know there are all kinds of Idea Generators and Writing Prompts available, for me just walking around a place like this throws a whole slew of ideas into my brain. I can pick any two, maybe three, of the businesses in the mall, watch the people going in and coming out and all of a sudden I’ve got myself a cast of characters and some plot threads.

Two weeks ago when I first tried to renew my license and found three dozen people and a two hour wait ahead of me, ElderHaus was a tenant. It’s since been replaced by the dance and zumba studio. Why? The temporary employment agency doesn’t even open until 2 PM. Why not? I see some story possibilities here.

My current WIP has a scene in a pawn shop, so I thought I’d do some research. A sign on the front door reads: “Before entering shop, unload all firearms. Open action.” Uh, consider it done.

I’d been in the pawn shop before – when I got my first NC driver’s license, and it didn’t look like the merchandise had changed all that much in the intervening years. I had this central casting pawn shop in my head (and in my WIP, where I think/hope it fits), but this place knocked my expectation on its head.

“Can I help you?” A woman who looked like she was ready to dish me up some of her green bean casserole at a church supper smiled at me. “We have some good deals on jewelry today. Everything in these three cases is 50% off.” A gaudy diamond pinky ring plays a prominent role in my WIP so I was pleased to see one sitting in the display.

The woman was gracious and eager to show me whatever I wanted. I might as well have been in Zales. Though I was tempted momentarily by the NASCAR money clip – a half-off steal at $15.00 – I left the store with nothing but some good ideas and vivid images. (Yes, I walked through the stolen tools and guns just to make sure I had portrayed Mr. Earl and his pawn shop appropriately. I had.)

The black eye? Another reminder to me that pulling disparate, mundane pieces together at just the right time gives a story authentic impact. For example:

  • a woman leaning down to pick up a piece of paper from the concrete
  • a man opening the garage door
  • a dog leaping from the first floor landing to the garage in a single, high-speed burst.


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