Why I Turned Off My Car Radio

Reading time: <2 mins.

Sharp observation skills, like every muscle in your body, atrophy without use. Conversely, you build and sharpen your observation skills through daily practice.

So whether your commute involves Sirius radio, a pair of Beats or your favorite FM station, you’re squandering a killer opportunity to observe when the music steals your mind away. Story ideas surround you.

[“Pay attention. Characters surround you.”]

The woman waiting for “WALK” to appear on the pole comes with a vastly different backstory than the teen in locs slipping through traffic like a human game of Frogger. Walkjob? Make them switch roles. Decide what they’re comfortable with in life and throw the opposite at them to see how they react. Go ahead. What fears pass through the woman’s mind when she accidentally gets caught in the middle of a busy street? What happened in her life that forced her to walk anyway? And how does your dreadlocked teen combat frustration when he is forced to obey the traffic light at the corner? Put him on crutches, see all the things in his life that slow down. Like a dream, perhaps. As his anger speeds up. A story starts to form, eh?  Myriad avenues present themselves.

Not every character shows up with a full story inside them. Maybe they inform one of your existing characters in your work in progress. They bring an emotion, a signature characteristic or a physical attribute that brings your current character alive. Pay attention. This is your opportunity to observe. It’s fun, and you’ve probably heard that song currently playing forty-six times.

I admit, I miss the occasional exit on the highway or drive by my turn sometimes. (Okay, a lot.) But the upside – it gives me another opportunity for an observation.

Turn your radio off. Pay attention. Characters surround you. With a little practice, you’ll write a story in your head every time you’re out.

14 thoughts on “Why I Turned Off My Car Radio

  1. What a wonderful post. When my dad had his stroke I drove many miles over mountain passes back and forth every day to sit with him. I turned the radio off. Prayed. Paid attention to the landscape. Tried to think of how I would describe it in a story.

    Flipping people into uncomfortable positions in life is a great conflict builder. Donald Maass says, “Think of your character. What would they never do? No make them do it.”

    People are creatures of habit. Getting forced out of their comfort zones irks them.

    Good job!


  2. A visit from Julie Weathers. I’m honored. You have such beautiful writing, Julie. And, of course, two of my favorite characters settin’ out there on the porch.

    I bet every time you drive over a mountain pass now your mind transports back to your dad. Great stuff!


  3. I followed Julie’s advice to visit and have to disagree. Good stories deserve a soundtrack. In fact some stories are a soundtrack. If you like writing with pacing, timing, tempo, cadence or whatever a soundtrack will help it flow.

    It works better if music is being listened to at background levels. I don’t disagree that stories are everywhere if you open you eyes and mind to look into what is happening outside of your personal sphere.

    I think what really needs done is for people to et their noses out of their mobile devices and visit the real world occasionally.


  4. This is very true. I tend to watch people (as best as I can without them knowing it) but not usually when driving. There’s not much to see going 70 mph down the freeway, but I get exactly what you’re saying. I also like how you thought about ways to flip it around – sort of like the suggestion you made in my FF a while back. We expected the boy to help the girl, but considering the girl’s personality – it wouldn’t have been expected of HER.

    That would have been a surprise, no doubt.


  5. Haha! A rejection, even on my blog — I love it! You gotta do what works for you, Craig. For me, it’s been an epiphany turning off my car radio.

    You’re probably a better multi-tasker than me. I can’t work on a scene and chew gum at the same time, so it stands to reason there’s no way I can sing along to the radio (sing is my word, others would use a different description) and create stories at the same time.

    Good luck with your writing, soundtrack or no.


  6. I’m sorry it took me so long to visit your blog, dear friend. Thank heavens Julie brought it up today. I thought that you don’t have a blog… Why? I make up stuff. At least it’s good for writing… 😉 Switching roles is wonderful. All your suggestions are brilliant. I love your insights and how perceptive you are about people. It shows in your writing!


  7. Well written and wise advice!

    Although if I was sitting across from you at a coffee shop, I would be wondering if you were plot meandering or actually LISTENING to what we were talking about ;D


  8. Donna,
    So funny you bring that up. Who am I to be commenting on your FF, right? You’re the one with a book coming out. Maybe you can do a guest blog post when it comes out and speak to the hordes of people following my blog. Hordes is Latin for two, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shit. Are you kidding? I can stand all the help I can get. I LOVED your input and especially b/c ever since then, I’ve thought about it a LOT. Sometimes it just a simple statement like, “you could have done it this way,” and it takes the tangle (known as my thought process) and yanks it ever so straight!

      I actually want to blog about your point. Hey, I have a book coming out but that doesn’t mean my writing is good. Whaddya think?

      And I’m happy to guest blog anywhere. You want me here? I’m here. Just say when. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Lilac,
    You weren’t making that up. I’m new to the blogosphere, thanks to people like yourself who shamed me into finally getting this thing up and running. You’re so kind. (Keep being that way!)

    Thanks for stopping by. I’ll see you over at the Shark Tank.


  10. Janice,
    You’re spot on. I GUARANTEE you I’d be spying and listening in on your conversation. So, let’s pretend we’re in the coffee shop … what would you be talking about?

    Uh huh … uh huh … yeah, right … uh huh…


  11. I people watch all the time, making up stories about them, using their mannerisms to flesh out characters in my own stories. My daughter has always found this so irritating. “Mom, stop staring. People will think you’re weird.” Well, that train left the station ages ago. I suppose this goes with being a writer.


  12. Visiting from the JR blog 🙂 I love hearing other people’s methods for creating stories. I guess people are different. A beautiful/ adventurous/ creepy song is what gives me my most vivid scenes. If something happens and the music is turned off suddenly, I am left with the feeling that someone just closed a good book! My brain abruptly stops making the story. Cool take on things though 🙂


  13. I’m liking this idea. I often people watch and find myself creating back stories of my own for people I see. Or even possible scenarios they’ve gone through or may go through, just your typical daydreaming. What a great idea to take it a step further and consider people outside what I imagine to be their comfort zone.


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