Friday, 3 May 2013

Keep Your Eye on the Ball...Not the Bandicoot!

Okay, not the most revealing of titles, I admit. When I said that this blog was going to be about writing tips, I never promised that they would be conventional. There are already too many blogs to mention that can guide you step by step through the writing process and even more published books on the subject. What I prefer to focus on is my own experience in general, so I am going to tell you a little story.

Anybody who has been following this blog will know that most of my anecdotes spring from my time spent travelling. This one is no different. It begins a few days after I first stepped off the plane in Sydney to begin my backpacking adventure. I was hungry to see the sights and had already been to the Opera House, Bondi Beach and Darling Harbour, so the next port of call on my agenda was Manly, a beach suburb on the northern shore.

I spent the morning on the beach, soaking up the sun and wanted to see something a little different for the afternoon. I followed a short walking trail that led up to the cliff tops and a small wooded area. As with most places of natural interest this close to the city, there was a small board that detailed the flora and fauna that one could expect to find along the trail. Alongside this information board was a small signpost containing only the word "bandicoot", a picture of said animal and an arrow pointing into the woods.

My only experience of bandicoots was from the Playstation video game featuring the eponymous Crash Bandicoot. Suffice to say, I was excited at the prospect of seeing how closely these little marsupials resemble their digital counterpart. Without a seconds thought, I ran into the woods, eyes glued to the ground in the hope of spotting some tell tale fur. I saw none, but undeterred, I carried on deeper and deeper into the wooded area whilst all the time scanning the ground for bandicoots. It was only when I caught my head on a branch that I stopped to take stock of where I actually was.

Hold on a minute. Did I just say that I caught my head on a branch? That is not strictly true. It was actually something attached to the branch that I had happened into. A spider's web to be even more precise. Now, I have always been a bit of an arachnophobe. Even growing up in England, where they are all completely harmless, I never could stand the little critters. For me they were the stuff on nightmares (literally, there is nothing that wakes me up in the middle of the night like a really vivid spider dream). So when I looked around to see not one, but a whole tarpaulin of spider web covering the entire upper half of the woods I was more than a little petrified. The webs were not empty either. I could see dozens and dozens of the biggest, most scary looking arachnids that I had ever seen. I am talking about spiders bigger than your face!

All that I could do was freeze and try to crouch down as low and as far away from the webs as I could. At this level I could no longer tell which way that the trail led. I was lost and trapped in my own worst nightmare.

I do not know how long I remained curled up in the foetal position for, but I would probably still be there now if not for an elderly couple who came across me by chance. With self preservation taking precedence over dignity I asked the old couple if I could "walk with them" for a while. Still crouching and barely able to open my eyes, I meekly followed the old pair as they led me out of spider city. The worst thing is that I did not even get to see a bandicoot.

So what was the purpose of sharing this embarrassing incident you may well ask? Well, in reply, I invite you to take another look at the posts title. You see, sometimes we cling on to an idea so appealing and exciting that we lose track of all else. Like when I ran into the woods in search of the elusive marsupial, it is very easy when we are writing to be so taken with one particular plot development that we lose sight of all else. We carry on writing our story with tunnel vision and in turn our work loses balance.

It is therefore essential that we give just as much attention to our minor characters as our lead. Our subplots must be as lucid and interesting as our main narrative. In short, we cannot become so blinded by one aspect of our writing that we run into the woods chasing bandicoots. If you do, don't be too surprised if you find yourself surrounded by spiders.

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  1. But don't you think that the really interesting part of that story, the human part, is that you were in Australia backpacking and were paralyzed by the very same fear that might get you in Minnesota? Maybe, for me living in South Korea now and having people write to say “are you okay?” from, you know, say, Boston, makes my vision a bit blurred. But I love this story for the spiders, bandicoots and sub plots. Okay, so perhaps NOT a travel brochure, but a story nonetheless. Good luck wiht future adventures - arachnid and otherwise.

  2. Thank you for taking time to leave a comment, I really appreciate hearing from people who read this blog. When I first started writing it, I guess that I was not entirely sure what I was going to write about. Like you say, it is the human elements of a story that make it interesting and I will be sharing a lot more tales from my travelling adventures on here rather than focusing too much on the technical side of writing.

  3. We do have monster spid... (I don't even like the word!) in australia. I once rented a car from the Brisbane airport and headed off happily. Until a huge hairy creature ran up the windscreen. I tried to flick it off with the windscreen wiper but it quickly ran inside my passenger window (which I just didn't quite wind up fast enough). I swerved the car, ran up a gutter and ended in some industrial empty car park. I jumped out of the car and ran a safe distance before remembering my two daughters, aged 5 and 8 at the time were still in the backseat.

    It was too late, there was no way to save them now... In the end it was the 5yr old who calmly flicked the spider out of the car. Once they convinced me it was really gone and safe to drive on, we headed off again. Once on the road, my 5yr old said, 'wasn't there two spiders?'

    I completely understand your fear - spiders are evil.

    1. It is good to know that I am not alone. Even in the UK, where I do not even think that they can bite I will run a mile when I see one!