13 November 2007

Survival TV and the Writer's Imagination

The most interesting part of the show "Survivor" to me, back when I used to watch it, was when the castaways would create shelter and find water and food. When they did, that is, because more and more they ceased to do so--and I was done with the show. Imagine my surprise when my daughter and I were watching the Discovery Channel the other day and I realized there are several programs that discuss survival techniques -- from "I Shouldn't Be Alive" to "Survivorman" to "Man Vs. Wild". While "Man Vs. Wild" is enduring a blaze of controversy regarding just how much roughing it the host does, I found myself fascinated by some of the environments and situations the rather attractive and expressive Bear Grylls encountered.

I don't think I'd ever get stranded in the Everglades or the Sahara -- God forbid --but what if I wanted to write about it or something like it?

There's all kinds of research you can do when you're writing and worldbuilding. There are more accurate sources of survival information than television programs if you want to picture your hero and heroine fleeing from the bad guys across the Costa Rican rainforest or getting some pirate booty (hee hee!) on a deserted island. However, there's nothing like visual images of unusual and exotic landscapes to get your internal sensors flickering.

For example, when Bear trekked across the subarctic lava fields of Iceland, as far as the eye could see, there were large black rocks and sand and scattered moss. It didn't look like any part of Earth I'd ever seen, not that I've seen a lot -- but still. Definitely fodder for science fiction or fantasy settings. And then he came across an ancient lava tube, an oval cave through the earth where one could find shelter, hot springs or, well, death, considering Iceland is a geographically volatile area. He added some semi-scientific details about how the water inside the lava tubes had been filtered enough to be more drinkable than on top and showed viewers how to make a torch out of sticks, T-shirt strips and animal fat.

To check out more cool lava field/tube/Iceland photos, I found the photo I included here on this fella's page: http://www.simonho.org/Photos_Ice.htm

In another episide, we watched Bear slog through the Everglades. He demonstrated how one might build a platform in a cluster of trees as well as how to put a fire on top of the platform. Then he cooked a cooter (turtle) and squiggled his way out of quicksand. Or maybe the quicksand was in the Sahara episode, where he also snarfed down a scorpion, constructed a dew trap and sheltered in a rock bed during the cold desert night. I do not think, however, we'll be watching the episode where he tauntauns a camel. I could have done without some of the animal and insect munching scenes -- Fear Factor has never, ever interested me. It would have been enough for me if he'd have pointed out what was and wasn't edible, though I understand people do like to see it live.

No matter how realistic Bear's adventures actually are, they definitely contained things that activated my writerly imagination. The characters in my next book might not dine on treefrogs, but they may need to make a makeshift minnow net or navigate a bleak, alien terrain.

After Bear's show, there's a National Geographic program on about the Octopus Volcano on Stromboli Island. Dang, that sounds a lot tastier than a cooter!

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Winter 2008, Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/
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