By Mariah T.
Writing a scene involving a car crash can be a little tricky. It’s a dramatic event, and as such, if done poorly, it can look like a writer’s attempt to lure the reader into having emotions through unresearched, unskilled and lazy methods. But you can write car-crash scenes to great effect if you understand your genre and do the work.
The way that you write a car-crash scene will depend greatly on the genre that you’re writing in. Literary fiction usually places a greater emphasis on character development, but a crime or mystery novel might focus on the significance of a car crash in relation to the development of the plot. Think about what your readers will be interested in based on the genre that you’re working in. If your aim is to develop the character, you should ask yourself how the car crash further illuminates something about the character. Are they changed in some way by the car crash? If your story is focused on plot, what events do you hope that the car crash will set into motion or further complicate? You also need to decide what will cause the crash. Is it a high-speed car chase or drunk driving? These decisions will also be decided by plot, genre, and character.
One of the great dangers when writing a car-crash scene is writing something that is overwrought. Some car crashes in real life are dramatic but overdramatizing or dramatizing the wrong details can actually work against you if you’re trying to keep a reader’s interest. For instance, car crashes can cause chaos, but you need to focus on details that the reader hasn’t already thought about in order to keep things interesting. For instance, you might research the physics of how a car with rear-wheel drive would spin on a patch of ice so that you’re able to accurately describe which direction the car was facing when it went into the ditch.
If you’re going to have a car-crash scene, there needs to be a reason as to why it’s significant, and the details that you choose will determine the consequences to your character or plot. As injury attorneys point out, a cut across your arm may require stitches, but it doesn’t really affect your life—at least, not for long. However, if that cut was across your face, you might be permanently scarred, which will visibly disfigure you, which in turn can affect your life in drastic ways.
What NOT to Write
Whenever you have a dramatic incident in a piece of writing, you need to pay extra attention to your prose. Cliché writing will especially grate on your readers’ nerves or just plain bore them. There’s an exception to almost every rule in creative work, but as a general rule, don’t write about things like, “blood pooled on the concrete” or “Sarah was crying because her arm hurt.” The prose in these two examples is uninventive, and they have details that the reader would already associate with a car crash.
Some events in real life are dramatic on their own but translating the drama and tension to the page takes a great deal of skill and attention to detail. As with all great writing, you need to surprise your reader while still writing something that makes perfect sense.
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