A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Hostage Situation!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is being taken hostage.

Tied Wrists

Problem: Being taken hostage
Goal: To not be a hostage
Description: Rope. People with guns. Clock’s ticking!
Difficulty: Depends how well they tie knots

It’s that time of year again. You always forget, and when you hear that scream echoing along the alleyway, you set off running to save the damsel in distress. There’s a van. A woman. Men with balaclavas. You charge into the nearest kidnapper, knocking him to the ground. Then it hits you: this isn’t an ’80s film, so what’s a damsel doing in distress?! Then something else hits you: something hard. The world turns black and screams at you like a tiny metal banshee. When you wake up, your wrists are tied together and you have a bag over your head. It smells like potatoes. Without thinking, you fell for the trap and ran headlong into the kidnappers’ hands. And now you’re a hostage. It’s that time of year again.

Note 1: Had you not been bonked on the bonce, you could have done something to draw attention to yourself, like screaming. Screaming like a little girl watching Halloween while home alone might result in the police being called, the van’s description being taken note of, and rescue. But you were cracked on the coconut, so you’re on your own.

Note 2: The first thing you need to do is calm down. Try to reduce your heart rate and the flow of adrenaline. Like those mystical Wing Chun monks taught you that time in Shambhala. Now use your Hero senses to observe your surroundings. What other sounds do you hear? What do you smell, past the potatoes? Are you moving? Are you dumped in the van or have you since been moved? How many kidnappers do you hear talking? How many do you remember seeing, including the fake abductee? Your Hero experience will allow you to take this further: did they move like professionals or amateurs; did they seem tough and capable; what is their emotional state?

Now add to this information possible reasons for your abduction. If you’re a rich Hero like Bruce Wayne or Lara Croft, it’s probably for ransom and they’ll need you alive as long as possible (and you also don’t need to be reading this). If not, the reasons are probably more killy. Additionally, as every Hero knows, if they allow you to see their faces, they are almost certainly going to kill you. It’s probably the brother of that terrorist you dropped off a multi-storey car park a few years ago. Escape is vital.

Note 3: If you find that you have been transferred to the boot/trunk of a car, you may be able to escape right away. Newer American cars, and some others, will have a release on the inside. Any competent kidnapper will have thought of this, but it’s worth a try. If there isn’t one, you still might be able to get at the cable release that runs to the front of the car, where the driver pulls a lever to open it. Though this could very well be a car with a simple electric button to open it. Either way, if you get it open, you’ll probably throw yourself out the back, get hurt, shake off the hood, and find that there’s no one around to help. The kidnappers will quickly chase you down and throw you back in the car.

Kidnap Van

Note 4: For now, be cooperative with your kidnappers. There’s no point headbutting the first person who lays a hand on you and running blindfolded into a wall. Be patient and wait. Give them cause to relax a little. Apologise for trying to escape earlier; you don’t know what you were thinking.

Whenever you get the chance, talk to the kidnappers. If you can, pick the weakest one and try to befriend him or her. Remain as human as possible in their eyes, talk to them about things you might share in common. People have been known to make themselves so likable to a bottom-of-the-food-chain kidnapper that he lets them escape. But these are probably some kind of ex-military mercenary type people too afraid of their fearsome benefactor to even consider that. At the very least, being cooperative and pleasant might mean they let you go to the bathroom now and then.

Note 5: Keep track of the time of day as best you can. Make sure to take note of routines your captors have, such as change of guard and when they bring food. You need to start working out when the best time to escape will be. Do you ever hear or see any signs that others are being held there too? You wouldn’t be a Hero if you saved yourself and left other people behind.

What kinds of weapons do your guards have? If you are guarded all the time, you will have to fight him. Tailor this part of your plan to what weapon he carries, and remember that the others will likely have the same. If he has a gun, expect to get shot at by the others if you’re spotted escaping.

Note 6: If you are somewhere with windows, try to get a look outside. If you turn out to be on an oil rig in the middle of the sea, it’s going to negatively impact your chances of escape. If you need to, and if you can, talk the guard into allowing you to walk about the room a bit. This will give a chance to get a better look outside, and will ensure you don’t cramp up 10 seconds into your escape.

Note 7: Keep a close eye on what kind of bindings they use on you. Different types will require different methods of escape. Plain rope will need a loose knot or perhaps a weak wooden chair to break. Neither of these is likely, but take a deep breath and tense all your muscles when being tied up in order to give yourself as much slack as possible Breaking Zip Tieswhen you relax. Handcuffs will be even harder to get out of, but slightly less restrictive.

Zip ties are a cheap and easy replacement for cuffs, and could be useful for you. If possible – perhaps after being released to use the bathroom – hold your wrists out to be bound again, but turn your palms up or down. This will mean even when they tighten the zip tie, rotating your wrists, palms together, will make it looser. Now to break the tie, ensure the ratchet bit is situated halfway between your hands and on the side furthest from your body, then drive your elbows forcefully and smoothly backwards so that your torso forces your hands apart (or forwards, obviously, if your wrists are bound behind you). This will also work for most tape.

Of course, if you are being released to use the bathroom, you could just take that as your opportunity to escape. But consider that your captors will be a lot more on guard while you are free, and they may even call another in to help keep watch on you. Getting yourself free while they think you are tied up could give you a much needed advantage. It might depend on whether you are left alone or not – slamming your wrists into your stomach isn’t particularly subtle.

Note 8: Your main villain will probably show himself after a while. Don’t taunt him or otherwise aggravate him. Show weakness and a degree of submission, which will be easier to do if they don’t feel you well or have beaten you. This will make it easier for him to underestimate you and think you’ve given up. Alternatively, he might only be there to execute you. In all likelihood, though, he has some evil master plan for nuking the western hemisphere or something and will keep you around to watch. And he’ll monologue a lot.

Note 9: It’s time. They’ve stopped feeding you. They’ve taken their masks off. They are treating you more inhumanly. The signs are there: they are preparing to kill you. Or just, you know, the nukes are a thing.

It’s about half an hour until the end of your guard’s shift. He’s getting tired and losing concentration. Casually take one of your walks around the room, maybe make a little conversation, even if it’s one-sided. If there is a door you need to coax him through, do so – perhaps with a request for the bathroom or perhaps by using your feminine wiles (damn it, man, don’t argue: just do it!). Again, if this isn’t necessary, it’s best to leave him in his relaxed state.

Headbutt! Break the bindings as he falls. Give him a Hero’s one-punch knockout and take his gun. Search him for any keys and anything else useful, like a radio. Depending on where you are and how long it’s likely to take to escape, you could tie him up and gag him, but it’s probably not worth wasting time on.

Note 10: If there are other hostages, they are your first port of call. They will probably be military, taken hostage because of their knowledge of nuclear codes or some such. This means they’ll be able to shoot, even though they’ve somehow been unable to free themselves.

Now they’re free, leave them to shoot their way out (not so much an option if they aren’t military types – maybe get them to the van and point the way out), and head after the villain. Have a heroic one-liner ready for when they inevitably ask ‘But what about you?’ Something like ‘I have a score to settle’, delivered in a gravelly voice and accompanied by a narrow eyed look up at the villain’s control tower will suffice, even though technically he has a score to settle. Also note how they make no effort to help prevent nuclear annihilation. Probably because they know you’re a proper Hero.

Now go and make a citizen’s arrest or whatever and press the ‘Abort’ button just as the nuclear launch counter reaches six seconds (one second is too cliché).

Nuclear Blast

Congratulations: You have successfully returned to being a not hostage and the world is relatively safe from nuclear apocalypse, assuming some kind of dimwitted Oompa Loompa escaped from Willy Wonka’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane isn’t elected president.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…some other thing!

A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Deserted Island!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is washing up on a deserted island.

Deserted Island

Problem: A speck of land in the endless ocean
Goal: To not be here
Description: Sand. Sun. No volleyballs!
Difficulty: Less hard than harder stuff

The beautiful glittering of the blue ocean, the gentle lapping of waves on the soft white sand, the hearty sobs of the damned. In all likelihood, you have found yourself on this beach, on this island, in the middle of nowhere, having survived your cruise ship being sunk by a sea monster. Or your plane crashed again. You have twenty survivors with you, blistering sun already beginning to burn your skin, and water everywhere but not a drop to drink. This island might be nice for a visit, but you never chose this: it’s time to escape.

Note 1: You are the Hero, the Kraken killer, and your fellow survivors will look to you for leadership. Gather them together and make a compelling and heartfelt speech about how you’re no hero: you’re just a man/woman. They won’t listen and you’ll continue to be heroic, but you are now humble.

The first thing to do in the event of becoming stranded on an island is to build a sand castle. How better to show the island that you are in control than by transmuting its very form to into something of your will. Also it will calm everyone to go in for a bit of arts and craft before getting to work. Besides, some idiot let the only volleyball float away.

The second thing to do is quickly get to know your fellow survivors. What skills do they have? There will definitely be a doctor, a Military Type, a drug addict, and a stereotypical native of somewhere very similar to the island. Other miscellaneous skills and professions could come in handy. Use this new knowledge to set people to work building shelters, gathering materials to make a fire for later, and making spears for fishing and perhaps hunting. The doctor and military type might be best left here on the beach to organise this stuff and check any injuries.

Water shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as there is vegetation in the centre of the island, meaning water. It won’t be difficult to find, and the Military Type will probably know how to go about it. Dig pools near the water’s edge, which may trap fish when the tide goes back out. Any food you aren’t 100% about (like coconuts), rub on the back of your hand first, then a few minutes later on your lips, then your tongue, then finally hold in your mouth. If at no stage do you see or feel any kind of reaction, you probably won’t die from eating it (but it should be cooked anyway).

Note 2: Take the good natured native with mystical knowledge and wisdom beyond his years, your love interest from the cruise ship, and someone expendable, and embark on an exploration of the island. You’ll want to know what size it is, what kind of fauna lives here, if there is edible flora, and if it is indeed uninhabited.

A crashed WWII German fighter will soon make things eerie and ominous. In a stroke of originality and cultural sensitivity, the native will probably tell you it’s a bad omen. The air will turn cold, the leafy canopy above will suddenly cast the area in shadow, and only you will have the bravery to ascend the tree in which the cockpit is lodged. Be ready for the shocking reveal of the German skull staring at you as reach the top.

WWII Plane

What luck! The radio is conveniently still working! But bad news: no one answers, no matter how much you twiddle the dials. Repeat your ‘come and rescue us’ message a few times, find a frequency with faint voices that don’t seem to respond to you, then give up.

Note 3: An hour or two later, you will have discovered that the island is definitely uninhabited and be about to return to the beach when someone will say, ‘Wait, what is that?’ This is where your Hero senses will tingle. There, barely visible through the trees, you will see the edge of a wooden construction.

A simple shack, broken down and throttled by vines will receive you coldly. The makeshift bed will be covered in dead leaves, telling you this place hasn’t been used for years. You may even find mysterious empty vials, test tubes, some unidentifiable bones. What kind of mad scientist lived here? And where are they now? And where does that trapdoor lead…?

You will now have a brief discussion about whether you should go through said trapdoor, during which the expendable survivor will belligerently defy the general consensus and pull it open. Before you can stop him, he will start to descend the wooden ladder. Obviously, it will break. He will plummet into the gloom. Upon being asked if he’s okay, he will inevitably call back something like “Aaarrrgghh! My leg! I think it’s broken!” As you peer down at his barely visible form, he’ll follow up with another cliché: “Oh God! There’s something down h–” At which point, a few fast-moving shapes will flit past the puddle of less gloomy gloom and, with a blood curdling scream, your expendable companion will be gone.

There’s only one thing a true Hero can do now: slam the trapdoor, pull the bed over the top, and run like hell. To save the other two…naturally.

Note 4: When you return, you will find freshly caught fish drying in the sun, and the doctor and drug addict in a heated argument. Naturally, one of the survivors will be in great pain and the addict’s drugs will be the only thing that can ease said pain. You can try to talk the addict around…blah blah blah…MilitaryTypeChokeHold! The drugs are now at the doctor’s disposal, the survivor is relieved of their pain, but you’ll have to keep an eye on the addict and the Military Type. One could be an unpredictable new enemy, and the other will almost certainly be too prone to violence.

Note 5: At this point, you’ll want to prepare your rescue signals. You have lifeboats and a jet ski with a nearly empty tank, but nowhere to go with them. You will need to call in the cavalry! But not literally. Use palm fronds, rocks, tree branches, the boats themselves, whatever you have, to create a message on the beach. Write out ‘HELP’, ‘SOS’, or ‘WOULD YOU BE SO KIND AS TO SEND HELP, AS WE SEEM TO HAVE FOUND OURSELVES IN Beach FireRATHER A PREDICAMENT’ in large letters (make the horizontal stroke of the H about 12ft long). This may very well still not be seen from a plane with a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, so don’t stop there.

As stupid as it sounds, messages in bottles have been known to actually get people rescued, but perhaps don’t rest all your hopes on that. Build three fires in a triangle – this will be recognised as a distress signal. Make them big, keep them burning during the morning, and light them again before the sun goes down, so the smoke has a chance of being seen.

Use a mirror or something reflective during the day to signal any aircraft or ships you see. Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot = SOS.

Note 6: Gather the native and love interest at the third fire that happens to have no one around it, and discuss in whispered tones what you all saw under the trapdoor. Should you tell anyone? Should you ignore the problem? At this point, you will realise you have been sneaked up on. It will either be the drug addict, who will cause a scene, or the Military Type who…will cause a scene, because you should have included him.

In the midst of the arguing, disbelief, and arguing, screams will erupt from the fire closest to the trees. Survivors have disappeared! Frantic, hysterical babbling imparts news of fast moving shadows darting out of the trees and taking them. It’s time to ramp up the action.

Note 7: Gather your forces. The native, the love interest, the Military Type, and the doctor will certainly join you. The doctor will probably turn out to have been an Army medic anyway. The addict will probably surprise everyone by volunteering, but he just needs something to get his mind off the withdrawal. You still have a flare gun and your handgun from the cruise ship, but the makeshift spears are going to be the only reliable weapons you all have.

Against all semblance of common sense, make and light some torches, and head back to the shack. Note the bed still over the trapdoor – they are emerging elsewhere. Being the Hero, you should descend into the darkness first.

Note 8: Now will ensue about 10-15 minutes of terror. The rough passages down there will be extremely dark, with all sorts of narrow tunnels dug into the sides, and you will be acutely aware that your torch does more to pinpoint your location that to reveal your enemies. One by one, your group of 8-10 will be picked off, dragged screaming into the narrow openings that speak of horrifying crawly things. More than likely, the bravado of the Military Type will mean he’s the first to go. At some point the addict will freak out and run into the darkness never to be seen again. Soon, it will be just you, the native, and the love interest again.

And then you’ll reach the centre, where all the passages converge. The nest. The home of what you now see are…cannibals! Deathly pale, malformed cannibals, deformed and turned feral by…uh…lack of sun. Yes, lack of sun, don’t argue with the science.

Fight for your life. Use your Hero skills to avoid getting bitten and thin the cannibals’ numbers. Some of the stolen survivors will already have been eaten, some will be killed now as you try to get them to run back to the trapdoor. That way is impassable now – the weird cannibal hissing and groaning from down that passage tells you so.

Note 9: In a convenient lull in fighting – perhaps brought on by a well-placed flare – gather all surviving survivors and head down one of the other passages. Don’t worry which – your Hero’s luck will ensure that it’s the one that leads outside. The sun will be coming up soon, even though it only went down a short while ago: if you can just get outside, the cannibals won’t give chase!

Cave Exit

Now will ensue a terrifying and tense retreat through the dark tunnels, the sounds of the pursuing cannibals close behind and getting closer. Perhaps more survivors will suddenly cry out and get sucked backwards into the darkness. Ignore them, they’re dead now.

The native will now tell you to get everyone to safety. Share a meaningful look with him before he stops running and turns to face the cannibals and buy you time to flee. As you run on and he fades into the darkness, make a sad face that also conveys how you’re determined his sacrifice won’t be in vain. Take your love interest’s hand for emotional support and run like you’ve never run before! And don’t fall on your face.

Note 10: Now that the sacrifice has been made, you will soon find the exit. The faint glow of dawn will make itself known towards the end of the tunnel and you’ll burst out into the new day just as gangly, pale limbs reach out of the tunnel after you. Angry howls will probably follow you, but the cannibals will not.

After the customary annoying laughter that has no place right after so much death, head back to the beach. As you do, you will start to hear roaring. Engines! Your radio pleas were heard after all, and a helicopter and ship have arrived to save you. Look relieved and heroic at the same time, while the helicopter lands in slow motion and the survivors all hug each other and probably laugh some more.

Climb aboard the helicopter, but don’t shut the door yet. Keep your eyes on the trees and rejoice as out of the shadows limps your new friend, the native! You should probably learn his name. You have witnessed the birth of another Hero. Greet him with a Hero’s forearm ‘handshake’ and share another meaningful look before pulling him into the helicopter and flying away into the sunrise.

Helicopter into sunset

Congratulations: You have escaped the cannibal-infested not-so-deserted island intact. It’s a secret that you will all keep to yourself, because who’d believe you? The cannibals are going to have to learn to be vegetarians if they want to survive. Next time you take a break, it’ll be a city one. Also you now have a love interest who will never be seen or spoken of again for no apparent reason.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…less sun and sand.

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving a Besieged Ocean Liner!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is a besieged cruise ship.

Ship Wake

Problem: Big ship, big trouble
Goal: To not drown
Description: Water. Pirates (maybe). Sea monster (probably)!
Difficulty: Harder than an iceberg

It was a hard fight, but eventually your captain, Chief, forces you to take a vacation (because you’re American now) after that last case. Your partner got killed, goddamn it! No one wins a fight with the Chief, especially when he’s angry-chewing his cigar, so here you are in the middle of the ocean on the USS Waterboarder (yes, it’s a Navy ship that’s also a cruise liner; don’t overthink it, you’re on vacation), staring in a totally not creepy way at the men and/or women in their swimwear from behind your sunglasses. Sun, sea, relaxation: it’s awful. No one’s shooting at you, there are no cars to chase, no bombs to diffuse, and you feel entirely out of place. But then…disaster! Thank God!

From the bowels of the ocean, slippery, questing tentacles reach up for the ship. Or pirates attack, but that’s boring. Just as you are dozing off, the ship jolts violently and there are screams from all around. The vibration and low, distant grumbling of the engines increase while the speed rapidly drops away. You know something is very wrong, and it’s about damn time.

Note 1: The first thing to do is to heroically leave everyone else to fend for themselves. There are staff aboard to initiate emergency stuff and things, so you can use this time to run back to your cabin and get that gun you sneaked aboard. You could simply have hit a reef, but a Hero knows when things are extra-specially wrong.

Also, put on the Personal Floatation Device – life jacket – found in your cabin, lest you get thrown overboard. Don’t worry, you’ll find a much cooler looking one later on, after having put this one on an attractive member of the opposite sex who’s clearly too dim to find their own.

Note 2: Like all good American detectives who are out of their jurisdiction, you’ll want to shove your badge in as many people’s faces as you can and tell them how important you are. It’s time to start calling the shots, because no one else can. Next stop, then, is ye olde wheelhouse to let the captain know that he needn’t fear, for there is a city-slicker cop aboard. Make sure to grab as many passing crew members as you can to demand they tell you what is going on. You know they don’t know, but it’s for dramatic effect.

Note 3: The captain will either be a calm, posh Englishman who knows nothing and puts etiquette first, or a bald, angry-looking American ex-Navy man who knows everything but will die very soon. Determine which this is and either take charge or politely offer your assistance, respectively (once the captain dies, in the latter case, the rest of the crew who have worked together for years will naturally turn to the complete stranger who knows nothing about ships or the sea to order them about, so don’t worry).

In either case, you will determine that the engines are at full power, yet the ship is going nowhere. Communication has been lost with the engine room, and no one can be spared to go and down and check on them! Thank Poseidon you’re there!

Note 4: Your journey to the engine room will be an enlightening one. You will inevitably enter a deck that is entirely deserted. Eerie. Foreboding. Luggage scattered about the corridors. Cabin doors open and banging. And then…blood. But no bodies. Ragged holes will be punched through the outer walls, lined with slime. You’re going to need a bigger gun. But this is just a set up for later, so no need to worry about being attacked.

Down below, things will be worse. As soon as you reach the bottom of the stair well, ‘splash!‘, the flooding has begun. Either the bilge pumps aren’t working or the water has bypassed them somehow – through holes punched through the steel hull by something slimy, perhaps. Make your way through the dark, hot corridors lit by tension-building red lights in search of the engine room and answers.

Note 5: The first encounter! Your Hero senses will be tingling maddeningly by now, so it will be little surprise when you force open the strangely stiff engine room door and come face to sucker with a bloated, sickly-green tentacle. The engine room people, for that is their subspecies and job, will be dead. All but one. The final one will be pressed into the wall, his face slick with sweat, and staring wide-eyed but silent at the searching tentacle. As it flops and squelches about in search of the snack it knows is still there, make your choice.

Who knows what kind of fumes could be down here – is firing your gun wise? Would it even hurt such a…thing? There will inevitably be a convenient fire axe on the wall nearby, but the tentacle could feel the vibrations of your steps! Take a deep breath, Hero, and make. Your. Choice.

Note 6: You have made the wrong choice. The good news is that it was inevitable this early in the narrative. The bad news is that now the last engine room person is dead. Should you shoot the tentacle, it will screech (which is weird, because it has no mouth) and start searching frantically, causing ERP to panic and try to run. He’ll be crushed and dragged out through the hull.

If you head for the axe, the tentacle will immediately attack you. You’ll run, you’ll dive, you’ll kick, and you’ll eventually get the axe. But upon chopping into the tentacle, it will flail around and crush ERP. The tentacle will withdraw and leave you with your guilt.

Kraken

Note 7: Now you have a new problem: the ship is beginning to sink. Through the magic of your Hero presence, it is sinking a lot slower than is believable, so that’s good. Depending on the ship’s design, centre of gravity, and where the giant tentacles are, the ship could start listing to one side, or sink aft-first. In this case, it will certainly tip to the side first and then the aft will start to sink. So be prepared to climb your way back to the top deck. Luggage will fall towards you like falling rocks, threatening to knock you down the increasingly steep slope towards the ocean.

After several painful impacts, near-misses, and probably saving a damsel in distress (or whatever the male version of a damsel is if this is the 2010s), you’ll reach fresh air again and discover the lifeboats have been launched. Some will be yanked under the water as they row for safety,  and some passengers will be too afraid to get in the boats. You know the only way these people will live to see tomorrow is if the tentacled sea-beast dies.

Miscellaneous: There are a few things to keep in mind as you progress.

  • Be on the look out for your love interest
  • Keep your eyes open for the twist – did someone summon this monster? Is there a badly-timed terrorist plot aboard too? Are there any Cthulhu worshippers around?
  • Make sure you get locked inside a rapidly flooding room at least once, and escape at the last moment (probably thanks to the love interest – if you’re a straight male, make sure to tell her you’d be dead if it weren’t for her; if you’re a straight female, make sure to tell him that you didn’t need his help and you can take care of yourself)
  • Put yourself in a situation where you have to dive under flames, swim too far to possibly hold your breath, and only just make it
  • Take a phone call at some point from your Chief, checking that your vacation is going well and that you’re relaxing. Tell him it’s boring

Note 8: Now it’s time for the montage and dramatic music. Just imagine it in your mind. Unless the crew tell you about some kind of experimental nuclear/anti-matter warhead aboard, which is perhaps a stretch even by your Hero standards, you’re going to have to improvise. There is bound to be scuba diving equipment on board, and definitely jet skis. Gather some brave crew members – and perhaps that obnoxious out of place tourist will unexpectedly volunteer (probably a Texan in a Hawaiian shirt and Stetson who’s been chewing tobacco and getting in everyone’s way) – and arm them with fire axes and flare guns, and send them off on jet skis.

Your only hope of drawing the beast further out of the water is to anger it. Traversing what remains of the ship by jet ski and chopping at any tentacles you all come across should do the trick. Remember that at this point, you should be shirtless except for some kind of life jacket that looks more like body armour, and your exposed skin should be covered in heroic cuts and scratches, so take care of this while no one is looking.

Note 9: Most of your brave crew will die. The ship will start to sink faster than ever with the sea monster thrashing about in pain and anger. Fires will consume the few dry parts of the ship and ignite the fuel spreading over the water; explosions will shake your bones. A survivor will probably ask if it’s working, and then be swallowed whole by the giant beak of the hideous monster as it violently breaches the surface.

Now you have to stay alive long enough to build the tension. Shoot it with your remaining bullets, ski past and hack it with your axe, barely avoid getting crushed by furious tentacles and, eventually, hurl the axe in slow motion at it’s eye. With the tension built, you can reveal the last jet ski, rigged with oxygen tanks. Open the valves, lock the throttle in full roariness, and release the Kraken killer!

Note 10: You should probably escape at this point. There will be a conveniently straight corridor leading to the outside of the ship and you’ll probably be chased by a tentacle or two, killing the remaining survivors, but that’s fine. Remember to turn and aim your flare gun at the monster’s mouth just before you reach the end. Have your witty one-liner ready.

Now you will erupt from the jagged maw of the sinking ocean liner (in slow motion, obviously) as the monster explodes in far too big an explosion for a few oxygen tanks and a jet ski. -1 Hero point if you look at the explosion.

Tropical Beach

Congratulations: You have survived the ocean-liner-sinking monster. Tentacles are hurty, but a fire axe is hurtier; you got some engine room people killed, but you saved all the bikini-clad passengers. Now you all just have to row to that conveniently nearby paradise island to await rescue. Luckily, someone brought a volleyball.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…something without tentacles!

 

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Frozen Wastes!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is the unforgiving frozen wasteland.

Siberia

Problem: Ice and cold
Goal: To not die
Description: Snow. Ice. Commies!
Difficulty: Harder than a hard pebble

It’s inevitable. You’re wandering about 1930s Russia when you happen across a vicious beat-down. You intervene heroically but find the aggressor is NKVD and he denounces you as a spy. Typical. The next thing you know, you are in a convoy en route to a Siberian Gulag. The plus side is that 1930s Gulag labour camps aren’t things to be made light of, so you won’t get that far. You find out why the gang leader sharing your prison truck has a smirk on his face the entire journey when the convoy is attacked by his comrades and, during the ensuing gun battle, you heroically beat a distracted guard over the head, take his stuff, and run the hell away into the frozen wastes of Siberia. Not particularly clever, but the beginning of a proper Hero’s journey.

So, now you are wandering through one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth. Sure, the temperature can reach about 20°C (68°F) in the Summer, but no Hero is going to have a pleasant stroll through a temperate outdoors. If you’re lucky, it won’t be the -69.8°C (-93.6°F) temperatures that are possible out here, but it will likely be around -25°C (-13°F). So what now?

Note 1: The first thing to not do is stop. And the first thing to do is not stop. It is stupidly cold – you may be a Capeetoleist pig-dog, so the Reds won’t chase you, but not far into the Siberian wilderness. They don’t want to freeze to death as you surely will. As you. Surely. Will. So keep running. You’ll get a decent enough head-start as far as hypothermia goes, as the exertion will keep your body temperature up. If you are lucky, the convoy won’t have any dogs along for the ride, and if they do, they’ll be preoccupied with the attackers.

Note 2: Hypothermia is bad. And there isn’t that big a temperature change required: The average core body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F), and the threshold for hypothermia is only 35°C (95°F). Rough milestones on the way to death are 32.7°C (91°F), where you will start to forget things, have trouble speaking, feel fatigued and confused, and start getting dizzy; 27.7°C (82°F), whereupon you will become clumsy, lose self-awareness, perhaps even try to take off clothing, and then fall unconscious; and finally 21.1°C (70°F), where you dead.

Note 3: Perhaps the Commie you looted had goggles, but if not, do as the Inuit do: make some goggles of your own. Use the knife that you definitely took from the guard to cut a piece of bark off a tree, obviously, and then cut narrow slits for your eyes. These natural snow goggles will help stop the driving snow slicing your eyes up, prevent snow blindness from the sun bouncing off the snow, and will make you look like some kind of Druid warlock.

Note 4: You won’t have much choice in the matter of clothing, but you should have been outfitted in wool for the conditions at the Siberian Gulag. This is good, as it is wicking – it draws the moisture away from the body rather than holding on to it. If you wear clothing that holds on to moisture from the snow and from sweating, you will freeze and die much quicker.

Note 5: Water supplies won’t be much of a problem – there’s snow everywhere which, with the druidic powers granted to you by the bark goggles, you can turn to water. Food, on the other hand, may be a problem. Wait at least a couple of days before starting to eat your own arms. You can’t afford to stop long enough to trap animals, and that guard probably didn’t have so much as a bar of chocolate on him, so you’ll have to survive on bugs. Grubs make a good meal – you know this from The Lion King. If you come across berries or mushrooms, your best bet is probably to not risk it.

Should you come across fresh kills, you will likely have to fight off the predator first, but then you’ll have meat. Cook it. You can use your knife to sharpen sticks into spears and javelins to scare off the predator from a distance. Unless it’s a pack, in which case you’ll be the next fresh kill.

Note 6: To cook your meat, and to warm up at night, you will have to make a fire, just as you did that time in the distant future when a bear stalked you through the wilderness. Do this before nightfall, when the temperature will decrease further and you will die quickly. If you are indeed in a snowy part of Siberia – and of course you are – you may find it difficult to locate dry wood. Wet logs will still burn, but they will give off less heat, more smoke, and you don’t really want to breathe too deeply around them. You’ll be unable to start a fire using wet logs, however.

Snow Fire Pit

To find dry wood, look for dead branches on leafy trees – these will be most sheltered from rain and snow, and drier because they are dead. Better still are entire dead trees that are still standing. Resin burns well, so you may need to betray your new Druid ancestry by wounding a tree. You will need kindling and logs. Again, wet logs will work if necessary. Make your own tinder by shaving off pieces of dry wood from dead branches, or breaking open a log to get at drier wood inside. Use the spinny stick in wood method, or locate flint in or on the ground, which will create a spark against your old, high-carbon knife.

To get the most out of your fire, if you have the energy and time, you can create a fire pit. Build up snow walls four or five feet from your fire – snow is insulating and will reflect the heat.

Note 7: You will need shelter at night. This is difficult in this environment, with few tools. There will probably not be nice grass, leaves, and moss to help keep you warm and block the wind. Again, snow is insulating – hence why igloos work so well. The inside of an igloo can reach around 40°C above the outside temperature. Sadly, you haven’t the tools nor the time nor the energy to put that much work into a shelter. However, you can build up some walls with compacted snow, just wide enough for you to fit in – you could even connect these walls to those you built up around the fire, helping the heat reach you where you sleep. Over the top of your little snow grave, you can lay branches and compact more snow over the top of these to create a shield against drafts – eliminate the wind chill. Try to make this sloped so that any snow melted by your body heat will not drip on you.

Note 8: Hygiene is important. Even a Hero can smell. But that isn’t the point. Rather, you need to ensure you keep clean to hold more serious health issues at bay, keep your feet dry to avoid trench foot, and rub against pine trees to smell nice when you are rescued by a pretty/handsome rescuer person.

Note 9: Now some bad news. The cold is dangerous, but you have got a handle on it. Now something more imminently dangerous needs to be added to your story. A predator. This could be a chipmunk, a flying squirrel, a musk deer (rub yourself against it to smell even nicer, probably), wolves, a brown bear, or an Amur leopard. This will depend on where you are and what the hell you did to be hunted by a squirrel, of all things.

Worse news. You are a Hero. The predator won’t be any of these things. It will be a Siberian tiger. The world’s largest cat, 11 feet and 320kg (700lb) of muscle, claws and teeth, is prowling somewhere behind you. It’s too good a hunter to let you see it, but you Hero senses are tingling. More bad news: within the next 10 years, hunting will have driven these tigers to the brink of extinction, so you can’t hurt it.

You should still be carrying your spears and javelins. You’ll need them – but don’t throw anything at it before it makes a move, as it will answer aggression with aggression. Like a goose. Do not run from the tiger. If you can locate its approximate position, back away from it. It will attack more readily when your back is turned. If you have some time, you can cut more bark from a tree, and fashion it into a kind of mask. If this can be fitted to the back of your head, you will look ridiculous. But you may also fool the tiger into thinking you are looking at it, causing it to be more cautious about attacking.

If the tiger does attack, try to befriend it, perhaps with a song. You have a couple of seconds to do so. Loud noises unfamiliar to it may frighten it. As a last resort, you will have to try to wound it. You’ll be hard pressed to still be a likeable Hero if you kill or seriously hurt an endangered tiger, but if you wound it enough it will retreat. Alternatively, find a bear and goad them both into fighting each other.

Note 10: The home stretch. But not really, because you’re still in Siberia and you probably don’t live in Siberia. But with the harsh wasteland all but tamed, and the man-eating tiger frightened off, your story is winding down. You’re not safe yet, though. You have to pass around villages now, full of people who will happily kill you for the bounty placed on the heads of escaped Gulag prisoners. You may be tempted to sneak into a village to steal food and clothing, but this is unwise. Doing so may turn your story into an epic trilogy. Just leave.

Siberian Tiger

Congratulations: Siberia has been conquered. Now you could be anywhere. Except places that aren’t Mongolia, China, Russia, and the Arctic Ocean. The most Hero-worthy outcome will be that you pass into Mongolia and then have to cross the Gobi desert, in which case it’s lucky you already know how to survive the desert. That will probably be the sequel, unless you are crossing the desert to infiltrate a Siberian Gulag, in which case reverse everything. Now you are stalking a tiger and demolishing shelters. Are you the villain now?

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…a thing that isn’t this thing!

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Desert!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is the unforgiving desert wasteland.

Desert

Problem: Sand and heat
Goal: To not die
Description: Sand. Sun. No Surf. Possibly Jawas
Difficulty: Difficult

The Sahara. The Mojave. Most of Australia. As a Hero, sooner or later you are going to find yourself in a hot desert (which have subtle differences to colder deserts such as the Arctic and Antarctica). Perhaps you are drifting through in your cool drifter way and stop for the wrong hitch-hiker; perhaps you’re unlucky enough to have another plane crash; perhaps your brother’s killer has a cattle ranch in the middle of Texas. Whatever the case, it’s going to inevitably end up with you stranded in the middle of a sea of sand, uncomfortably warm. If you are going to make it back to civilization to go on a rampage against your evil twin/traitorous hiking guide, you’ll first need to survive the harsh harshness of the desert.

This naturally being the worst desert a Hero could find themselves in, it will probably be about 3.5 million square miles and 45°C (113°F) during the day. The sand itself will be somewhere around 80°C (176°F), so you’d better hope your evil nemesis didn’t swipe your sandals. First, brush up on your Hero’s Handbook of Sand, and then set to.

Note 1: What are you wearing? White clothing will reflect more heat, but black will better protect against those UV things the sun throws at you. What is your clothing made of? Wool and some synthetic materials are wicking – they draw moisture away from the skin. This is not what you want in an environment where dehydration will kill you. Wear that nice, wide-brimmed straw hat you brought, as well as gloves and sunglasses. Cover as much skin as you can – particularly your head and neck.

Note 2: Your eyes are going to be subjected to a lot of bright light and you don’t want them to get damaged. If you don’t have sunglasses, cut – or tear in a manly or womanly, but above all Hero-y, fashion – a strip of material from inside your crashed plane or wrecked Jeep. Cut two very small slits in this for your eyes and wrap it around your head like a Ninja Turtle. Failing this, simply wrapping material thin enough to see through over your eyes will be better than nothing.

Note 3: In the unlikely event that you want people to find where you went (not very Hero-ish of you) or to backtrack, arrange stones into arrows now and then as you go, or carve into the ground. Build a smoky fire, maybe by dropping a grenade through your wrecked car’s window.

Note 4: Move at a steady speed. You don’t want to dally and you don’t want to dilly, but you also don’t want to walk too fast, overheat, and work up a sweat. If you sweat, you dehydrate; if you dehydrate, you die. Don’t sweat it! …Literally. Also breathe through your nose and only eat small amounts of food to avoid becoming more thirsty. Don’t bother rationing water – drink as much as you can, whenever you can. Don’t drink urine, but do use it to wet whatever you wrapped around your head to avail of evaporation’s cooling effect.

During the day, create shade with the pop-up Bedouine tent you have in your bag of holding or mini-Tardis. Otherwise, try to find other ways to create shade, or shelter in a cave. If you are in the kind of desert that has caves, be careful entering, lest it already be home to something. If possible, sleep on a platform raised off the ground – remember how hot the sand gets?

Note 5: Unless absolutely necessary, do not travel during the day. It is more cinematic, but a lot hotter. Nights in the desert can be very cold. The temperature could even fall below 0°C. Travelling will keep your body temperature up, but now is also the time to wear the warmer clothes you packed in your unexpectedly-stranded-in-the-desert kit. Wicking fabric is preferable in low temperatures when sweating, as the sweat will lower your temperature, but any sweating will, again, dehydrate you. So continue to not sweat.

Note 6: To find water, your options are limited. If you see any kind of vegetation, head towards it. If there is water around it, like an oasis, do not immediately drink it. Build a fire and boil it if possible, as it will most likely be highly contaminated. At the absolute minimum, filter it through sand. Don’t bother trying to cut open a cactus – they are not packed full of water.

Desert Oasis

Rainfall is unlikely, but if you get lucky and there has been recent rainfall, you may still find pools and puddles that are uncontaminated and have yet to evaporate. In low areas where rainfall may have absorbed into the ground, you can try digging. Don’t exert yourself, as you might not even find water. If after a couple of feet, you still don’t feel damp ground, give up. If you do, you can wait for the hole to start filling with water, or dig some more. Place material in the bottom to absorb it and wring it into a container (or your mouth).

Bar running into people, the only other ways to find water are fauna. Look for animal tracks or birds circling. Just hope these aren’t signs of a giant desert tigerlion.

Note 7: The sun is far from the only danger. You may find that this desert is completely devoid of life, but don’t count on it. Spiders, snakes, and scorpions could hunt you for miles, looking to make a name for themselves by taking down a fully-grown human Hero. Though the majority of stings and bites aren’t lethal, even ones that make you a little unwell in the middle of the desert might as well be.

If looking for lizards or insects to catch and eat (always cook meat first), turn rocks over with a stick, never your hands. If you take your shoes off to sleep, shake them out after and check that nothing took refuge inside them. If you place anything on the ground, turn it over with a stick and inspect it carefully before picking it back up. If you placed your stick on the ground, you are going to die.

Note 8: As well as animals, the unliving can prove fatal. Not zombies, in this case, as they don’t like the heat. More notably sandstorms and flash flooding. Sandstorms are something everyone associates with the desert: gigantic tidal waves of sand and dust surging through the desert with the speed and power of a sandblaster. They can carry larger debris, like rocks, and can cause you all sorts of damage. Shield yourself behind boulders or a convenient camel. Use a backpack to cover your head. Moisten cloth and wrap it over your face. Do not try to take cover on the sheltered side of a sand dune, as it will bury you. Do not take cover in a ditch as there is the potential for flash flooding to accompany the storm. The best ways to die in a sandstorm are choking or being hit by flying debris. Try not to do either of these.

Flash flooding is not something people normally associate with the desert, but it is a possibility. If you have found a band of vegetation, then you have probably found a riverbed. In the case of flash flooding, the good news is you have found water. The bad new is you may drown. Do not sleep or take cover in a particularly low-lying area. Desert ground is hard and doesn’t allow water to soak in. This means that you may see no signs of rainfall, yet be suddenly hit by flooding that started a long way off. Surprisingly, more people are killed in the desert by flash floods than by dehydration or heat. This is not a fitting end for a Hero.

Another potential danger is quicksand. You find this most commonly at the bottom of sand dunes. Don’t try to climb dunes anyway, as you could cause a small avalanche and be buried. If you find yourself in quicksand, lie backwards and ‘swim’ out of it.

Note 9: There are less natural ways to die in the desert, too. Not just the giant tigerlion or aliens. Depending on where you are, you may encounter nomadic or settled tribespeople. There is no reason to think that because they are not like you they’ll attack. But they will. They will probably be cannibals and slavers of some kind,  the likes of which no one has ever encountered, because how else are you supposed to be heroic?

Possibly, these won’t be the main villains of your story, and therefore will be normal people. Still approach with caution, as you don’t know what their customs are, their beliefs, the value they put on life (particularly that of outsiders), etc. Particularly if you find water or fruit-bearing trees nearby, do not help yourself, as they will own these.

Be prepared to go on some kind of heroic journey to free these people’s best hunters or something, who have probably been captured by evil white gold-miners or treasure hunters (possibly Nazis), and subsequently win the hand of their leader’s daughter or son and live in the desert forever.

Note 10: You might have to defend yourself against the people, though, who have evilly and maliciously claimed their land around where you stand, albeit many years earlier. They are definitely in the wrong here.

The problem is, any weapons you have in the desert will be hot and sandy. If your signature weapon is a javelin, the sand won’t matter, but the sun may have heated it to the point that it burns your skin on contact.

Should you be more old fashioned and favour a gun, you have a few issues. The sun will again have heated it. Your bullets will also have been heated, and it isn’t ideal to have a lot of tiny explosives in your pocket, getting hotter and hotter. Keep the gun well covered, in a sealed bag if possible, or else it will need regular cleaning and oiling because of the dust. To keep sand and dust out of the barrel you can also cover it with one of those balloons you get in pub toilets.

Sandstorm

Congratulations: You have escaped the desert, found a new, nomadic family, or possibly stumbled across a hidden paradise guarded by desert yetis. Sand is no match for you: you glue it to paper and smooth wood with it; you contort and deform it and bend its form to your will with a plastic bucket. You might stay out of the sun for a while, but the desert will know better than to go after your family again. Or whatever.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…a different situation!

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving an Avalanche!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is the icy wrath of the mountain.

Avalanche

Problem: Really fast snow. Like, stupidly fast
Goal: To not die
Description: White. Cold. Malevolent.
Difficulty: You’ll probably die

It’s just one of those freak occurrences: You’re out for a leisurely stroll through a supervillain’s mountaintop laboratory – where he/she/it is experimenting on kidnapped homeless people and puppies – planting explosives willy and perhaps nilly, when one of the seemingly infinite supply of henchmen (or henchwomen, if the supervillain is a fan of equal opportunity) spots you. A frantic shootout takes you back through the sterile white corridors – a sure sign of evil – to the exit and a convenient pair of skis and, finally, a heroic escape down the glittering alabaster slopes. But (dun dun DUNNN), the henchindividuals are on your heels, shooting at you and throwing grenades in flagrant disregard for the hazard signs; but that’s okay, because you still have that detonator in your hand. Inevitably, the mountain roars and angrily vomits at you in response.

So with a million tonnes of snow barrelling down the mountain behind you at over 100mph, how do you intend to not die? By being intimately familiar with the Hero’s Handbook of Mountaineering, of course (in which case you’ll know that the sound of those grenades didn’t cause the avalanche – that’s a myth). Failing that…

James Bond, Parachute

Note 1: Pull your parachute and use your momentum to glide to safety. Do so before the wind pushed ahead of the avalanche reaches you or it will cause complications. If said parachute has your country’s flag printed on it, get +2 to your speed modifier.

Note 2: If you don’t have a parachute, determine what kind of avalanche is it. Dry snow or wet snow? Wet snow avalanches will travel much slower – perhaps 20mph. The good news is, you can ski at around three times this speed, so you should be able to outrun the avalanche. Do so at an angle to get out of its path. The bad news is, as the Hero, it will be a dry snow avalanche chasing you. These average at about 80mph, but can reach speeds of over 100mph. You will not outrun it. While you have (very limited) time, you could try skiing to the side, but the avalanche could be extremely wide.

Note 3: If you have equipment with you, such as a snowmobile and even your skis, discard and move to the side of it so it doesn’t kill you and to minimise the weight pulling you under the snow. Sherpas do not count as equipment – do not discard. Unless you are ten feet from entering woodland and the avalanche is still way up the top of the mountain, don’t try to make for the trees – better to be prepared for the avalanche hitting you than for its speed to catch you by surprise.

Note 4: A fast-moving avalanche will push hurricane-force winds ahead of it, so be prepared to get hit before the snow actually reaches you. Don’t try to take cover behind rocks, trees, or vehicles – not only will the power of the avalanche almost certainly simply crush you with your choice of cover, but anything of that kind could cause some degree of slowing of the snow around it, and therefore cause it to pile up deeper over you. That said, if you can position yourself downhill from a tree, it may just protect you from some of the larger debris carried in and ahead of the avalanche. Alternatively, it may add to that debris and crush you. In the latter case, attempt a Michael Bay style snow-motion scene where it flies over your head, narrowly missing you.

Note 5: You are about to be enveloped by snow. The good new is you might get hit by debris first and die quickly. The bad new is it’s going to be loud, frightening, confusing, and painful. Crouch low, perhaps on your side to avoid being thrown like a rag doll, facing away from the incoming tidal wave of death, and cover your nose and mouth. Keep your mouth closed lest snow inappropriately invade your person.

Hand in Snow

As the slow builds up over you, move you arms to a position over and in front of your face to create an air pocket. Take a deep breath as the snow settles in around you, so as to give your torso some breathing room. Once the snow has covered you and doesn’t seem to be moving too much around you, extend your arm upwards. If you are near the surface, this will make it easier for someone to find you, and will give you a better chance of pulling yourself towards the surface.

Note 6: Now that the snow has covered you, waste no time in starting to dig yourself out. Don’t wait for it to stop moving – once it stops and starts to properly settle, there will be very little you can do to save yourself. If you still have that magical katana blessed by the gods, use it to melt the snow around you and carve your way out. Otherwise, if the snow is loose enough, trying ‘swimming’ out. Spitting is one way you can determine which way is up, and also a filthy habit. You are unlikely to have any light, so you may have to spit on your own face to see which way it runs. Don’t mention this part in later heroic tales.

Note 7: If you cannot reach the surface before the snow sets, your goose is cooked, your bucket is kicked, your dust is bitten, and your chips are being cashed in. Breathe as normally and as calmly as you can and pray. At least you died a conquering Hero. Unless the supervillain got away or you forgot to evacuate all the homeless people and puppies, in which case perhaps this is better than returning a failure.

Of course, if you earlier had a blazing row with your sidekick, now is when he or she will plunge his or her hand into the snow and pull you out with no indication as to how the hell he or she found you or got to you in time but who cares.

Note 8: Honestly, you’re probably dead at this point (RIP), but if not, yay. Being the Hero that you are, you probably dragged yourself through the quickly setting snow and burst through the surface layer just as it became like concrete around your ribcage. As soon as you feel fresh air on your face, you can start heroically and gruffly calling for rescue (don’t do this if you are still buried, as the snow will muffle the sound and you’ll waste your air). Again, the idea of noise causing avalanches is a myth, so don’t worry about that. Unless you’re in a film.

Note 9: If you were not alone when the avalanche hit, you’d better get to rescuing. Ignore the henchpeople who shot at you – they quite literally brought this on themselves. It will be difficult to pinpoint the last place you saw your companion/s, as the landscape will have changed and you’ll have no idea how far you have been moved by the snow. However, do your best to gauge where they were last and carefully work your way just downhill of that spot. Look for their equipment, as they will almost certainly be in line with it.

Note 10: If you don’t both have probes and transceivers, chances are you won’t find your chum, but at least you kind of tried. Then again, using your powers of heroism, you will probably happen to dig in just the right place. If you can hear them, dig frantically – just below them and in towards them rather than on top of them and straight down – throwing the snow downhill. If you can’t, it means they are buried too deep. Or dead. Or somewhere else. In this case, dig quickly but steadily, expending as little energy as you can so that you can dig further before collapsing of exhaustion – this will be about the same time as you uncover their face and one of you delivers a witty one-liner. Be careful not to accidentally kill them with your shovel.

Once everyone is pulled from the snow/left for dead, carefully make your way sideways and off the settling avalanche, avoiding ambush by Yetis. Seek some kind of rescue type people if you want or need, or stumble across a secret mountain civilization and learn the secrets of immortality and kung fu.

Avalanche Sign

Congratulations: The cold superiority of the mountain has been sneered at; its million tonnes of snow and ice are nothing compared to your foetal position head sheltering. You lived to tell the tale, reluctantly, to the younger generation who speak in whispered tones of your heroic exploits. And you’ll think twice about skiing again.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…another thing!

A Writer’s Guide to…Surviving the Wilderness!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is surviving the deathly grasp of nature.

Mount Baker

Problem: The great outdoors
Goal: To not die
Description: Wild. Scary sounds. Outside
Difficulty: Difficult

Disaster! The private jet carrying you and your promising but ruthless protégé has flown through a swarm of angry ducks, blowing out the engines! In a terrifying blur, the metal tube has plummeted to the ground and crashed in the middle of Endor/a large forest, a hundred miles from anywhere. Upon waking, the first thing you see is the dead pilot (because when do they ever survive?); the next is your protégé running at you with the fire axe that all jets definitely have aboard. A minute of dodging, screaming, and appealing to what little humanity still resides in this rabid stockbroker/your daughter’s gold-digging husband leads you to a fall over the inevitable cliff edge into the even more inevitable fast flowing river. Thrashing, swimming, and not breathing water eventually saves you and you emerge from the water miles downstream with one singular thought: you have to get the holy hell out of there; also why do jets have axes; and also are there bears in this forest; additionally, did you remember to insure the jet.

The bad news is, yes, there are bears in this forest. Of course there are bears in this forest. The good news is the jet’s insured and there aren’t any tigers in this forest.

Note 1: You are wet. In your fright and rush of adrenaline, this might not seem too terrible. It is. It is terrible. Night will soon come and even if you are lucky enough to have crashed somewhere decently warm during the day, wet clothes at night will be bad.

Note 2: First things first. Drink plenty of water from the clean river and collect any if you happen to have a container. Take a swig from your hip flask you think is secret but everyone knows about for warmth, then empty it and fill it with water. Avoid standing or slow-flowing water, as it will possibly kill you. If it is standing up, it may be sentient. Boil water where possible, collect rain and dew, tie a plastic bag around something nice and leafy and collect its sweat.

Note 3: Second things second. You need to find somewhere to spend the night so you can recover and set out at first light. The plane would have been a decent prospect if it weren’t for the madman who wants your head and subsequently your job. Head for higher ground. Ideally, you want to find a balance of natural shelter from the elements and distance from natural dangers such as falling rocks, branches that may fall on your sleeping head, cougar nests, etc. Go higher to avoid flash floods and mole people.

Note 4: You need two things to stay alive and dry out overnight: shelter and a tumble dryer. Failing the latter, a fire will suffice. Use branches against a boulder or tree to create a lean-to, then use smaller sticks and branches to fill the gaps. Finally, use moss, grass, leaves, etc., over the top of it all, cementing it with mud or clay if possible (be careful not to make it too heavy). Now coat the inside floor with more branches and leaves/moss/grass so that you won’t be sleeping on the cold, damp ground. Also hope lightning doesn’t hit the tree.

Note 5: Build the fire. If you are a man, society would have you believe you should inherently know how to do this; if you are a woman, society would have you believe you’re &%$! out of luck and should find a man. They’re wrong. You’re a Hero: you either know it all, or you know nothing but it magically works anyway. Unless everything is wet. Then you’re &%$! out of luck. Place a larger log or two on the ground, which you have cleared of anything that will catch fire and spread it, and away from same. Place tinder – dry grass, leaves, moss will do – between the logs and have small twigs ready.

Light the fire with your lighter, laser eyes, lesser arcana, dragon’s breath, or matches. Failing this, do you have a battery you can short with steel wool? Why the hell not? Flint and steel? Something like glasses to harness and concentrate the sun’s mighty power? Well, then it’ll have to be the drill method. Get a straight stick and either cut a notch in something big, like a thick branch, or gather heavy rocks to fashion a slot that the stick can go through. Place your tinder in and around the notch or under the slot, followed by the stick, which you will roll quickly and smoothly between your hands to create friction at the tip. Better still, use your shoelace and a bendy stick to make a bow. Hold down the straight stick with a rock and use the bow to spin it.

As the fire catches hold of the tinder, help it to spread throughout with gentle blowing. Stack small twigs over the logs and tinder, allowing room for oxygen. As the fire grows, add larger twigs and sticks. Eventually, you will be able to add larger logs. Dry thine clothing.

Note 6: Eat edible plants. Don’t eat poisonous plants. Dandelions are edible, so are lettuces. There is usually no need to go after animals, but you are unusual and the Hero. Fashion a hunting bow. Mine nearby ore, smelt, blacksmith. Forge a mighty sword. You will probably need it for that bear of unusual size and aggression who has caught your scent and is hunting you for miles upon miles entirely against its nature. Also the protégé who went mad with bloodlust surprisingly fast – remember him? Perhaps the two problems will take care of each other at the last moment.

Brown Bear

Note 7: The bear is Man’s greatest foe. When Man is faced with a hungry, angry bear, anyway. Do not attempt to cuddle it. When you finally come to the final showdown with the bear, do not try to run. That is cowardly, and also it will outrun you. Assess what kind of bear it is and recall the different approaches that you memorised for no reason:

  • Black bear – These are more timid than other bears. Make lots of noise and they will often lose interest. Fighting back when one actually attacks may also cause it to give up. Don’t bother trying to climb trees to escape – they are better climbers that you.
  • Grizzly bear – This will be the kind of bear you encounter, as it is most heroic. Probably a Kodiak. Back away carefully, without turning or running. The bear may charge you, but it may be a bluff. Stand your ground, you’ll probably be fine. The further back the bear’s ears are pushed, the more likely it is to be attacking. If it is attacking, drop to the floor in the foetal position and play dead. It will probably leave after throwing you about a bit. Stay down, as it may be hiding behind a tree, ready to jump out at you when it sees you’re not actually dead.
  • Koala bear – You will die.
  • Polar bear – What the &%$! is it doing in a forest?!

Naturally, this is a merciless killing machine that wishes to feast on your insides, so your only option is to fight. Use your sword. Good luck.

Note 8: If you are still alive, it means your protégé conveniently attacked you at the same time and is now in the bear’s stomach and it no longer cares about you. Now you can concentrate on being rescued. Find north by pointing the hour hand of your magically-still-working watch at the sun. The midway point between the hour hand and 12 is south. Hopefully you will have memorised a map and this will be helpful. If you intend to try hiking out, go back to the plane and build an arrow in the direction you are heading, using stones and stuff. Now that the bear and protégé have been fought, however, rescue should be arriving any moment.

Note 9: If the forest canopy is particularly thick and the rescue planes and helicopters won’t see it, head again for high ground. Find somewhere high and clear of trees. You can build a signal fire here and it will look particularly dramatic when you are rescued. The signal fire will be built the same way as the campfire, but…bigger. When you hear an aircraft, pile on anything that will make smoke. Technically, you could also use the signal flare from the jet.

Note 10: Remember to collapse to the ground laughing like a cringe-inducing idiot when the helicopters swoop in.

Signal Fire

Congratulations: Nature are stupid and you is smart; killer bears are laughable and nobody laughs at your jokes. Your daughter will be happy to hear that you helped a bear eat her gold-digging husband who tried to chop you into firewood. You’ll return home realising there’s more to life than money and you’ll live life to the fullest from now on. Except the after-credits scene shows the bear coming across your address book in the plane’s wreckage: It will find you.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…something else!