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!