Just Write Something Cool!

montesa_alteredvibrance_squareWe’ve written this month about motorcycles. The different types. The different cultures. What they mean to us. Because this is a writing blog, we’ve related these traits and characteristics to writing. I think we’ve done a good job of it, but there is one thing we haven’t discussed yet.

To be safe on a bike it is very important to wear the right gear. In all honesty, those folks tooling around in bandanas and jeans are in for a very rough spell should they go down. And when you ride, it isn’t a matter of if, so much as when. Sooner or later you’re going to get up close and personal with pavement.  And skin, I am quite sorry to say, doesn’t wear well when scraped across tarmac. We all remember what it was like to fall down and skin our knees as kids. That was just running. Try it at 70 mph.

HiPointsThere in lies one of the things I like the best about riding a motorcycle, and it isn’t road rash. Just as women like their purses, scarves, belts and designer boots, riders like our gear. It’s just… cool. Take this old pair of HiPoint Pro GP boots I wear. They haven’t made these in over a decade but I found a mint pair on eBay a few years ago. While they were originally meant for off-road, and I used to wear them for trials, I’ve graduated them to riding on the street. They’re perfect for the job. THICK leather to protect my soft parts, but flexible. And I really dig the functional steel shin plate. Where else can you get away with wearing stuff like this when it isn’t Halloween?

I think all of us dream of going into space some day or flying a fighter jet. Ask most people and they’ll say they’d like a ride into orbit. Maybe that’s why we have such a helmet fetish. And not just the helmet, from jackets and pants made from leather, Kevlar, Cordura, Dynatech, and other tough fabrics, to gloves and armor, you don’t ride a motorcycle so much as pilot it. So where else can you dress like an astronaut or test pilot without seriously sullying your reputation as a rational, reasonable person? Whether it is black leather and a bandana or Kevlar and an Arai helmet, climb on a bike and (almost) anything goes.

JohnOnBMW

As writers we talk a lot about our craft. Characters. Plot. Setting. How we can put all these things together to create a story. It can get downright academic when it comes to discussions of rising action, plot points, and how we use motivation and desire to generate dramatic tension. Modern craft says you need to have conflict on every page.

NautilusSometimes I get a little tired of the conflict and  just want something cool. Some gear. Something to fire the imagination. Something creative. Kids love the game I created for my novel Multiplayer. Older readers identified strongly with world I conveyed in The Silla Project. How much of Jules Verne’s success was based on the cool ideas he poured into his works. Would Michael Crichton have attracted the following he did without the amazing ideas he used to drive his plots?

Spend some time thinking about cool stuff. Or what your audience thinks is cool stuff. It is a lot of fun and can add some extra spice to your next project!

Today’s writing prompt:

Write about something you think is really cool. Not a person or an idea, but a thing. It can be real or fictional. Say something about how its very amazingness thrills you.

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer, an adventure for young adults, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. Find out more about what he is doing at johncbrewer.com.

 

– John C. Brewer

Characterization: Bad-boy Riders

Motorcycles can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye just like a ’68 Shelby Mustang. The deep baritonic rumble vibrating through the muffler can make a dreamer and wanna-be adventurous girl like me grow weak in the knees.

Marlon Brando-The Wild One

Marlon Brando-The Wild One

For years, motorcycles, right along with demin jeans, boots, pristine white-Ts and leather jackets represented the iconic bad boy.  And for good girls wanting a taste of the wild side, it represented a sense of adventure and perhaps a taste of that forbidden fruit. For the protective papa I’m sure those two-wheeled beasts were like their worst nightmares come alive to steal their daughters from beneath their noses.  Marlon Brando and James Dean were before my time but I can imagine all the swooning young girls and the closed-lip shotgun holding fathers as Mr. Motorcycle circled the block.

Growing up, my dad almost always had a motorcycle. Since I’m not well versed in brands and motors, I have no clue what he had, but I can tell you something: Dad was nothing like Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli aka Fonzie.

Ahhhh does that name produce a particular image? He wore his leather jacket and motorcycle like a suit of armor but inside he was softy. Have you ever read the back story on his character? If not, check it out here and scroll down to character traits and development.  Pretty interesting, huh?

Of course if you were a fan of Happy Days you know the chicks fell all over him with a snap of his finger. Kind of funny when you think about how he was portrayed as a womanizer, but was very likable. Guess I never thought about him that way before. Probably because the screen writers did a good job of giving him likable qualities, that’s something important in characterization.

Now let’s look at a little bit of a twist, something unique, at the time, from the sweet innocent girl batting her long lashes at Mr. Leather.

At the risk of giving away my age, I was barely eleven when Grease 2 hit the movie scene. It probably wasn’t as popular as the first Grease, but boy howdy did it fill my young head with all sorts of fantasies. I recall standing on an end table pretending to be Michelle Pfeiffer belting out “Cool Rider”. I do believe this about the time I started wearing Harley Davidson T-shirts and paying close attention motorcycles, or at least the guys riding them. Oh yeah, and I had one of those satin jackets similar to what she wore.

Okay, so what’s the twist you ask? Well, Michelle’s character Stephanie Zinone is a “bad girl”. She dresses differently from all the “good” girls, smacks her gum and hangs with the bad boys. Zinone he wants a bad boy, too. Well, at least, what she considers to be a bad boy wearing leather and riding a motorcycle. When Michael, played by Maxwell Caulfield, crushes all over her, she thinks he is nothing but a ‘sweet’ guy, a nerd. He’s totally off her list, but Michael is smart. He exchanges his argyle sweater for leather and learns to ride.  Of course, she has no idea who he is. If she did, she’d no doubt walk away. But he tempts her with motorcycle and leather. Her lures her further with romance and kindness.

We all know what happens, she finds out the truth and although stunned and maybe a little angry she realizes she’s in love. And as it turns out Michael isn’t the only one who changed through the course of the movie, so did Stephanie. She finds out not all guys wearing leather and riding two wheels are the same.

20130220_174304Obviously this blog post isn’t completely about motorcycles. Honestly, I don’t know much about them. I’ve ridden dirt bikes, Hondas, Kawasakis and even a Harley or two. That’s me with Uncle Lance after our ride. I was at an awkward age, had awkward hair, but loved every minute of that motorcycle ride.

I know how it feels to fly over the different terrains, how it feels to have the wind tug at you, the high scream of crotch rocket, the deep rumble of the Harley. Outside of a few episodes of American Pickers, I know absolutely nothing on the history of these unique machines.

What is this blog post about?

Characters.

When you read James Dean, no doubt a particular image formed in your mind. No doubt the girls mentioned were wearing poodle skirts or peddle-pushers without me having mentioning those words.

Fonzie left you with another image, as did my retelling of Grease 2.

When you write, your words need to paint pictures. I don’t need James Dean or Fonzie to give me a mental picture. I need to feel the motorcycle, to hear it, to feel, to experience the elements. As John said in an earlier post, “When you ride a bike, you view the world from inside the world. Not as a spectator but as a participant, with all the associated risks.”

Make that bike come alive, just as you would its rider, because in essence, the bike is an extension of its owner. It represents something in the rider’s life, history, rebellion, sorrow and a sense completeness.

Writing Prompt:

On Monday, John asked you to write a brief character sketch for a motorcycle rider. Why does he, or she choose the type of bike they do? What do they get out of riding?

I want you to dig a little deeper, bring the motorcycle alive. Give it a bit of personality to match it’s rider.

*Marlon Brando picture is from public domain. The photo was taken between 1923 and 1963. The copyright was not renewed.  For more information on this photo and copyright go here.
Signature

A Bike For Every Personality

Old MotorcycleMotorcycle.

The word itself conjures up a surprising range of words. Excitement. Danger. Freedom. Elements. Irresponsible. Fun. Fast. Cool.

What is it about two wheels and an engine that captures the imagination in so many different ways? Ultimately it is just transportation – getting from one place to another. And yet, even more so than a car, motorcycles reflect our personality.

I got my first real lesson in this when I started riding dirt bikes about fifteen years ago. A friend and I travelled to a nearby OHV (off highway vehicle) trail for an afternoon. We unloaded the bikes as another group was unloading their four-wheelers. We donned protective riding clothes, helmets, boots, shin guards, goggles, gloves, and chest protector. Our four-wheeling friends wore jeans and ball cap turned backwards.

I continued to ride off road for years, seeing this disparity almost everywhere I went. There is some crossover. Occasionally we would run across some guy in a T-shirt and shorts on an old broken down motorcycle, almost always a smoking Honda XR200 with leaking front forks. Invariably he’d be rail thin and, like the bike, smoking. And, from time to time, we’d run across a well-geared rider on a sport four-wheeler – almost always riding with a well-geared group on dirtbikes. But for the most part, the two groups ride different, dress different, talk different. They are just different.

I thought the differences were big off road. Then I started riding on the street.

crazy sport bike riderBasically, there are three groups of riders on street bikes. You have your sport-bike crowd. These guys – yes, they are almost all guys – are generally younger, though not always, and ride almost exclusively Japanese made sport motorcycles. These are the ones you see with the guy leaning way forward, shirt flapping in the wind, flip flops, and the engine sounds like a diving Stuka. Some of these bikes are incredibly fast and these guys take them in the 160 mph-range on public roads. King among these is the Suzuki Hayabusa. It doesn’t handle for beans but goes in a straight line like nothing else. These are the idiots that give motorcycles a bad name and skew the statistics to make them seem more dangerous than they really are. They either die in high speed accidents or grow out of it when they see their friends die in high speed accidents.

HarleyRidersNext, of course, are the cruiser riders. While the sport bike guys are all about speed, the cruiser guys are all about looks. Sure, they enjoy riding, but they enjoy it a lot more in character. For starters, their bikes, usually Harleys, are covered with chrome. That’s why Harley’s weigh about 850 pounds. Then, they’ve got that huge, air-cooled 45-degree V-twin that sounds like an Italian helicopter and idles like a jackhammer. It’s a terrible, massively unbalanced, bulletproof engine design that hasn’t really changed since it was introduced in 1903, and that’s the way the riders like it. We’ve all seen them on the weekends, decked out in black leather and all manner of fun helmets, from the Spiked German helm to horns. Funny thing is, these Harley’s are terribly expensive and the people riding them are mostly successful people just riding for fun. It’s their alter-ego so to speak.

BMW-MotorcyclesAnd then there is the touring crowd riding BMW, Honda, and other touring/standard bikes. There number one goal is getting around in style and they crave efficiency. They are almost always wearing top notch gear from Kevlar jackets and pants to gloves, boots, and the latest helmets. They keep their bikes in top operating condition and take safety seriously. They don’t tend to ride as fast as the sport-bikers, but are often excellent riders who have logged countless highway miles. They know their bikes inside and out and they know how to work on them. Motorcycles in this category tend to be the most versatile with upright riding positions. The professions these riders come from reflect their attention to detail, being doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals.

BikeWeekBut don’t make the mistake of thinking that because these folks are different, that they don’t get along. While this might be true in politics, it is definitely not true in motorcycles. Sure they’ll gather into their own groups at Bike Week and keep to themselves. But pass a fellow biker on the road an you’ll always get a wave. And if a biker needs help, a biker will stop. Doesn’t matter what group needs help or what group is giving it. It may sound silly, but there’s a bond there. Maybe it’s because there aren’t very many of us. We’re a tiny fraction of vehicles on the road and minorities tend to clump together. But I think it’s deeper than that. Riders don’t ride because it’s comfortable, or because it is quicker. They ride because it gives a sense of freedom. Any rider will tell you this. It takes a special kind of person to accept the risk, accept the discomfort and inconvenience, and keep doing it. So while each of us might identify with a different group, go a little deeper and we’re all the same.

This week’s writing prompt:

Write a brief character sketch for a motorcycle rider. Why does he, or she choose the type of bike they do? What do they get out of riding?

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer, a novel for young adults, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear thriller.

– John C. Brewer

Movie-Cycle Trivia & Other Stuff

I stepped out the door of Aunt Edna’s house as my older brother Mike roared into the drive on his motorcycle. I had not seen his new mode of transportation, since he was living in the area, and I lived near Nashville in Middle Tennessee.

“Hop on!” he shouted. I only hesitated a moment. He showed me where to put my feet and ordered me to “hold on tight.” I did. I think he had a lasting impression of my hold for quite some time. Now before you judge me, I have to tell you we were on a narrow gravel road in the middle of nowhere. I was terrified. When we finally arrived back at the house, they pried me off the bike, and I’ve never ridden since.

My brother kept his motorcycle for several years. Not long after I married, we were at my parents’ house for dinner, and Mike was expected. We heard the familiar roar. Mom and I stood at the door waiting to greet him. He was not alone. Not surprising, he’d had a number of girlfriends, but this one seemed different. She was right at home on the back of that motorcycle. When he stopped, she stood up and removed her helmet. I knew at that moment, she was the one for him.

Motorcycles have been romanticized. Some of them are famous. They’ve starred in movies. Stars have ridden them in movies. One scene immediately comes to my mind when I think of movie motorcycles. Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, riding into those rolls of barbed wire. Now that was exciting. Though this is my personal favorite, the choppers in Easy Rider take top billing among movie bikes. This 1969 movie had thousands of men running out to buy souped-up Harleys. Brando rode a 650cc Triumph Thunderbird in the movie that was banned for fourteen years in the UK––The Wild One. I was not allowed to see it either.

My favorite recent movie motorcyclist was Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman in the latest Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises. I didn’t like most of that movie, but Anne riding the Batpod was a high point.

While I understand the fascination with the motorcycle, I’m still reluctant to ride one. Especially on narrow, gravel roads behind a notoriously reckless older brother. Do you have a favorite movie moment involving motorcycles? Did that movie or scene in a movie inspire you to include a cycle-riding character in one of your novels or stories?

Today’s prompt – Write a short story and include the following: A long, winding road, a Harley-Davidson, a pink backpack and a stray cat. Use our comment section or the contact tab to enter your story in our February Prompt Contest.
Betty

Motorcycle Land-Speed Record and Writing

800px-Glenn_Curtiss_on_his_V-8_motorcycle,_Ormond_Beach,_Florida_1907What do you think of when you hear the word motorcycle? Freedom. Recreation. Relaxation. Speed. While John shared with us the aspect of freedom last week, I want to talk about speed. Specifically land-speed records set by motorcycles and their riders.

The motorcycle land speed record is the fastest speed achieved by a motorcycle on land. It is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs in opposite directions. These are special or modified motorcycles, distinct from the fastest production motorcycles.

The first generally recognized motorcycle speed record was set unofficially by Glenn Curtiss in 1903, on Ormond Beach, Florida, using a V8 aircraft engine of Curtiss’ own manufacture, housed in a spindly tube chassis with direct shaft drive to the rear wheel. Curtiss was timed at 136.27 mph, making him the fastest man on earth in any vehicle on land or air at that time. The automobile record stood at 76.08 mph, the rail record stood at 126 mph, and the Wright Brothers flew at approximately 9 mph.

In the March 2013 edition of Motor Cyclist Magazine, an article on the land-speed record drew my attention. The race is on for 400 miles an hour. What a change from one hundred years ago.

800px-ChrisCarrWorldRecordMotorcycle2006

User:cole24_ at flickr.com

On 25 September 2010, Rocky Robinson achieved an average speed of 376.363 mph in his Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah.

Will a racer reach 400 miles an hour? Records are made to be broken.

How does all this relate to writing? Our month on motorcycles will be helpful if you need information for a novel or short story involving the two-wheeled modes of transportation. Pushing the limits should not only be related to motorcycles, but also writing and writers. We should never be afraid of new technology or new avenues opening daily in the world of writing. Stretch past the limits of the formulated story to something unique or peculiar. Even if the story never sees the light of day, your imagination has been expanded and new ideas can abound.
And isn’t that what we all want as writers?

Writing prompt: “Salt Flats.” Don mouthed the words on the road sign to his right. His father’s dream, never realized, now fell to his…