‘Write about what you know about,’ they said.
Well, that about wraps it up for science fiction, especially alien encounters. I should have stuck with fantasy: after all, I was a fisheries scientist. Or maybe horror… oh. Wait. Dealing with the publishing industry came after writing, not before.
Like most general and free advice it is worth about what you pay for it… and what you can get out of it. Yeah – Lemons: lemonade stuff. Look, I never set out to live a sort of Hemingway-type life of doing bizarre, unusual and dangerous things. They’re like the dog or cat that follows me home. I’m too much of sucker not to keep them, and too dim-witted to realize the cute black and white stripy one is actually a skunk. I have done a number of things which are just too implausible for fiction. (I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even in the country, and besides I was led astray by evil companions. Anyway, the statute of limitations on netting goldfish with tennis court net from the pond outside a prominent government building are long past I hope. Not that I know anyone who would do something quite that daft. Goldfish are terrible eating anyway.) So… I should be able to write about some of that, yes?
And yes. As much as the next bloke, anyway. Neither of us met any aliens. (OK, so there’s the girl who was abducted by them and they impregnated her… but it ain’t me. Not even with a tentacle-suit) And no, politicians and New York City publishers don’t count. The former would only prove there is no intelligent life out there, and the latter are too alien for human comprehension.
We just make this stuff up as we go along. The important part is to get readers to believe it plausible (or at least entertaining enough) to suspend disbelief and enter your story. And this is where the next bloke rather than me, may have a big advantage on me. You see, I’ve actually grabbed a crocodile. He’s seen it in movies and on TV (which I haven’t). I’m frightened spitless of the things, but the honest truth was it was much less of a drama than taking the trash out.
It was in one of our ponds, eating the fish and when we drained the dam, there it was. The local black guys I was working with ran off, dropping the net – and there was me, in the dam (because I always took the worst job, the deep end, because that’s sort of the only way I know to get people to do stuff.). With it between me and the only easy way out – and it had to get taken away before it ate our livelihood. It wasn’t large – about 4 foot long, and I did know that their closing bite was incredibly strong, but that the opening jaw muscles weren’t. So I pushed a bucket down hard on the jaw, stood on it, on the base of the tail, and grabbed it by the base of the tail and then the end of the jaws, and with remarkable speed dropped it into the plastic 44 gallon drum we had for the fish, and slapped the lid on. We released it back into the river, and found and mended the hole it got in through.
The entire drama took less time than it took to write and was – from the observer’s point of view (not perhaps my underwear’s point of view) about as exciting as me grabbing a fish and dropping it in the barrel. Maybe even less exciting, because the big catfish I was dealing with were slimy and often the whole thing ended up as a muddy episode of fish wrestling. I got more than a few tail-slaps to the head on occasion, much to everyone’s amusement. This was quick and easy by comparison.
Whether it was the right way to do it or not, or even a sensible thing to do… I didn’t have time to think about. Thank heavens, neither did the crocodile. And dear heaven, I did not angst in the middle of it (for several pages) about my life, my mother, my relationships or the psychological effects of racial injustice or toxic masculinity.
And I’m damn sure the other bloke, who was writing from what he knew about it from watching it on TV would produce a far more gripping event, and one which his readers – except the rare fellow who actually has done this, would believe more easily.
It helps if you know something, or research it, especially if it is common knowledge (even if that is wrong). But be aware that going against common knowledge takes a lot of careful explanation and build.
But write anything you please, or rather (if you wish to sell books) that you think will please others to read.
Image by Jeff Leonhardt from Pixabay (yes I know it is an alligator not a crocodile. Alligators are much more attractive)
And yet, only one of you can describe how it felt to have the crocodile’s breath pass between your fingers.
Reflexive self-deprecation might be a good indicator of a good person, but not of a good story.
*Nod* When you’re in the middle of an emergency – dog fangs in arm, crazy person, car coming at you – there is no time for angst. There’s usually not even time for “Oh bleep.” Only dealing with Situation, and sitting down to shake after.
Yes. “The airplane is now 90 degrees from horizontal. How fascinating? I wonder what could have caused this to occur? I wonder what my grandfather, dead for twenty years, would have said about this were he here. I miss him so terribly . . . ”
No. I didn’t think, just acted. Got the plane back on straight and level, checked that the contents of said plane had not shifted (never lost single G, happily), and finished getting to the airport. THEN I wondered what the [rude word] had just happened! (Probably storm outflow, but no one ever sorted it out.)
Yep, yep, yep. Doesn’t matter what the emergency is, either, whether it’s big or small, life-threatening or not. You don’t think, you do.
There have been a couple of near-misses in traffic where I later had to pull over and have a solid case of the shakes, and one time when I was 14 and my brother was 4. We were visiting family friends and they had an old tractor (as in would have been an antique if it wasn’t a rust-bucket old) out in the yard of their small farm. I wandered out there at some point. Realized my brother was crying. Went over to see what was happening. Realized the gearbox was home to a massive wasp nest and they were all over him while he was sitting on the seat and too hurt to try to get away. Possibly too shocky – I don’t remember the rest of the day that clearly.
I grabbed him and ran something like 500 meters to the house. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t think it consciously registered that he was allergic to bees, not wasps. I certainly didn’t notice the several stings I collected along the way. There certainly wasn’t any angsting or anything.
As best I can remember, my reasoning went “my brother’s getting stung, get him somewhere safe, fast.” That had to have been one hell of an adrenaline rush that let me run and carry him that distance.
Glad you got out of the plane issue intact.
Adrenaline iirc has an effect similar to epinephrine, and works to combat allergic reactions. Hard to maintain an adrenaline high for a couple of hours though.
“I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers…”
Which means you grab the plane by the yoke, rather than just sit there waiting for it to happen… and someone’s gotta do it in fiction too, or the story is too short and the ending too abrupt.
Pet peeve both in fiction and real life: “Oh dear, the obvious is happening, whatever obvious thing shall we do??”
I worked for a guy who used to fly Spitfires, who after the war ended up owning a big company with a private jet. Probably a Lear, probably early 1970’s-ish. Flying into Toronto airport, got slotted in behind an airliner. Air traffic control kept bringing him in closer to the airliner.
Pilots will know where this is going. The much lighter business jet crossed the wingtip vortex of the airliner on approach, due to being much too close because of ATC instructions, and got flipped pretty near upside down. The old Spitfire pilot kicked hard right rudder and kept it in the air while bringing it around to right side up. Got it on the ground no problem, so went the story, but the seat cushions in the cockpit were never found.
I imagine it being like black ice at 70mph, the three dimensional version.
Yep. When my seven-year old daughter came in from playing down the street with her elbow bent into a square I turned off the frying chicken, checked for my insurance card, and got in the car for the emergency room. I was quick, but moved through what needed to be done without thinking about anything other than the next step.
Oh yes. Rising to the occasion and then figuring out what I did afterwards because I sure wasn’t indulging in inner soliloquies. I didn’t have time! If I did have time, then I was panicking instead of indulging in inner soliloquies.
Either way, not a lot of thought was involved.
Dave, I’m not sure, but that Croc may be the first thing I’ve ever heard about you catching that you didn’t eat. Or at least use for dog food.
Well, two owls, a bunch of fairy wrens and a pygmy possum 🙂 – but none of them were things I set out to catch to eat. They were just in the wrong place and I caught them to help them out.
Meh. The only way I deal with emergencies is to do something very fast with tools at hand. Which might be GROSSLY inadequate.
And the way I deal with blockage is to throw everything at it, rational or not.
The shakes and angst come later, usually years later in the middle of the night.
I ain’t that good at it, but I’ve survived the opinions of experts for 58 years come next month. It’s been a pretty good run, given when and what size I was born.
I’ll keep going, I think. If nothing else to spite those who wish otherwise.
“It’s not how big the dog is in the fight, it’s how big the fight is in the dog.”
Not to a crocodile!
You gator chauvinist, you. 😀
If you get caught in a crisis, you either Do, or Delegate. If you do neither you are Dithering, which leads to the fourth D, Dying.
As a fisheries scientist, I’m surprised you haven’t (to my knowledge) done a horror/scifi series based on Lovecraft’s, ‘deep ones’, ala “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”