Where Did You Park?

Where did you park?

It’s a common enough question, say when people meet a friend for lunch. It’s not usually vital information, but it’s often one of those throw away questions people use as a conversation warms up, I’ve found.

At the Carroll Creek parking deck,” they may answer. Simple question, easy answer. Nothing weird there.

But what if you found yourself on the receiving end of the following types of questions about your parking?

“Which floor of the parking deck? Which space was it? How many spaces away from the entrance? Did you make it on the first try, or did you have to back up and try again? Did you have to stop for someone else while you were looking for the spot? What cars, if any, were on the spots on either side of you when you got out?”

For me, such questions wouldn’t be too private, exactly. None of that information would be, in most circumstances, secret. But frankly, who the hell cares? How many people would even remember all those details about parking their car?

Again, if it were me on the receiving end of that third degree, I’d probably start wondering if my companion was interested in my company, or my parking habits. I’m here now, isn’t that what matters?

Yet sometimes readers, and even writers approach parts of stories in this manner, without a second thought.

In any fiction, there are relevant, vital details, and there are decorative, mood building details. An example of the former would be where the suspected murderer was during the determined time of the murder. Assuming you’re writing a mystery, there is a good chance that revealing this information at some point in time will be vital to your story.

The latter type of details? Well, those, as I said, set a mood, or deepen the experience. The detective drinks his steaming hot coffee out of a Baltimore Orioles mug. That fact doesn’t move the plot along, but it gives you a simple visual in the detective and the scene. To some, it’s still extraneous. For me, those details, in moderation, are still desirable.

But consider this passage:

“I’d seen O’Connor like this before. I’d come at a bad time. He’d gone without two things that morning; caffeine intake and his beloved mug. (The only thing he’d drink coffee from.) Over his swearing and the thumping of boxes and scattering of papers in the already messy office, I told him I’d be downstairs when he was ready. I stepped out of the office.

In the lobby I met up with Mrs. Baker, who had the files I’d asked for. We perused them together, and I noted, not without surprise, that credit card receipts had shown no activity on the suspect’s card in over a month.

“How can that be?” I asked.

“Maybe it isn’t,” I heard behind me. I turned to find O’Connor smiling, steaming coffee in his recovered mug.”

You can probably deduce which of these details are plot-oriented, and which are mood decoration or scene-setting.

If, however, you’re someone obsessed with “parking details” you’d want to know where the coffee mug had been hiding.

“You set up the fact that it was missing. You told us he was looking for it, and then you left him there. Next time we see him, BAM! he’s found his mug, and all is right with the world again. Where was it?”

To such questions, I respond with, who gives a damn where the mug was hiding? We know O’Connor loves coffee, loves that Orioles mug, and keeps a sloppy office. That gives us insight into what kind of man he is, and even what sort of story we are dealing with. We get an idea of what his office probably looks like. Wanting to know where and how he found the mug is parallel to asking your friend every last detail about how and where they parked.

They parked their car. O’Connor found his mug. Moving on.

Avoid telling readers where everybody parked. Yes, there are a few people who want to know such things at every turn, and they will have their defenses for such desires. But don’t bog your writing down with such things. Find a legal spot, park safely, and go enjoy your lunch with your friend.

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