Today I am going to take you back to another of my former travel escapades. Firstly, I will need to set the scene. At the time we were staying on the island of Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand. We had spent the afternoon on the beach, because there was not anywhere else that we could go unless we hired a motorbike. With Katie having very little confidence in my driving ability she would certainly not have taken the risk of trusting her fate on a motorbike with me, so the beach was actually the only option.
It was coming up to lunchtime and we moved to a table by the bar to prepare for dinner. We had only just taken our seats to order, when Katie noticed movement in the surf.
'Is that a bird drowning over there?' she asked, pointing not more than ten metres away.
I could see that there was definitely something in the water. It was hard to tell from that distance, but it certainly looked big enough to be a bird. She urged me to investigate further. When I got there, I could see instantly that this was no bird.
'It’s a big moth thing,' I called back to her in the understatement of the century.
It was in fact, the biggest moth thing I had ever seen. The Japanese make movies about these things attacking Tokyo was how big it was. Convulsing wildly, it was clearly going to drown in the surf if nothing was done quickly. I scooped it up out of the water with one of my thongs. (Note - I had not removed an item of inappropriately tiny swim wear. What I call thongs other people will call sandals, jandals or flip flops. The first pair I owned was in Australia, where they are universally known as thongs. And to me thongs they will always remain.)
‘That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen,' said Katie, as I lay the thong down for the insect to dry out.
It was at least three inches long and had a wingspan possibly double that. As we stared transfixed, it slowly rose to its feet and began to test its wings. The noise was like an underwater electric razor.
'What the hell is it?' asked a horrified Katie.
She followed this question with a high pitched squeal as the creature unrolled a disproportionately long tongue. It appeared to taste the very air around it (or our fear), no longer seeming so helpless after all.
'I don't like it, David,' professed Katie.
Before I could respond, we were forced to duck as the moth flew into the air and twirled wildly above our heads, before launching itself full force into the back of a chair. There was a loud thump and then it fell limply to the ground, where it lay lifeless in the sand. Katie and I shared a look of complete disbelief. We assumed that the impact had smashed its brain to a pulp. So much for saving it from drowning, I thought.
A superstitious person may think that it was fate. I stopped the creature from dying, only for my actions to eventually lead to it...dying. It certainly sounds like fate, but that is not the reason for me telling the story. What I am more concerned with is the fact that my good intentions (in trying to save the creature from drowning) ultimately served no good at all. This gets me to thinking as to how my intentions as a writer are received.
Every story has a natural arc. Every character has a pre-designated fate. To try and interfere with this can have disastrous consequences. It is important to serve the best interests of the story and not those of the character. As a writer, it is very easy to become attached to one’s characters. The important thing is not to become sentimental about them. If a story works best without a happy ending, you should never try to create one. You may think that you are saving your character, but in reality you may be simply delaying the inevitable and trust me, if a character is supposed to die, you have to let them. Like the crazy, oversized moth monster, they will still inevitably find their fate, but this time the death will be in the minds of the reader. They will be dead, because your betrayal to the story will render them unbelievable. An unbelievable character is an unsympathetic one and for a reader to lose all emotional connections to your characters is the worst death of all.
Okay, so the picture does not really do it justice! Just bear in mind that you did not see its tongue or hear the noise!