Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Tale of the Canadian Pilot

There was once a Canadian who'd been a pilot in WWII. When he reached retirement he decided he'd go to England and try to track down the nurse who'd looked him after when his plane had crashed and he was in the burns unit. He'd always remembered her because it never hurt when she put the drops in his eyes. He had her name, and the area in N Wales she came from, but nothing more.

He planned his trip carefully, budgeting for a six month stay - surely he could find his gentle nurse in six months. He arrived in N Wales and went to the local newspaper. Perhaps, he explained to the girl on reception, he could speak to a reporter. No need, she replied brightly. I think you're talking about my second cousin. Hang on, I'll ring my mum. Five minutes later, and he had his nurse's phone number.

It's a romantic story, but it ends way too soon, both as a tale and in real life (the six month trip being now redundant). How much better if he'd had to struggle in the search, the quest twisting and turning though red herrings, false hopes and loose ends, until at last, when all hope had gone - there she was!

Delaying gratification is a useful trick with story writing. Never make it easy for your characters, always make them struggle, always make them wait. Even a simple thing like needing a pen to jot down a phone number can have a little bit of tension - will there be one at the bottom of the bag? No? Yes! It's a bit like fancying the unobtainable boy who always keeps you guessing. Readers will love you for making them wait. So the warthog from yesterday's blog...he got away.

PS The nurse was my mother. She and the pilot met again after fifty years. They didn't fall in love. Another reason why fiction is sometimes so much more satisfying than real life.


Anonymous said...

Love it!

Ann Patey

Sarah Duncan said...