Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Writer’s Prompt: What’s in Your Character’s Survival Kit?

Man wearing a backpack, back to the camera.I was reading Military 1 today and came across an article about what Navy SEAL’s keep in their survival kits. These kits, which are used if a SEAL is caught behind enemy lines, are pretty impressive.

Each kit is only 4 inches by 2 inches by 1.5 inches, and comes in your choice of tan or green.

SEALs are able to use the kits as a digging tool, and a pot to cook food in (though not at the same time) – and they contain an impressive array of items: a mini, stainless-steel Multi Tool with pliers, wire cutters, file, and awl; button compass; LED Sqeeze light; fire starting kit; full-sized blanket; 2 x 3 signal mirror with aiming hole; bobby pins; safety pins; rope; first aid items and more.

They’ve got to be prepared for anything.

This got me thinking about our characters and what they might pack as “survival” items in our stories.

The lead character in my work in progress carries some specific demon-banishing items in her purse at all times, since lately, she’s been plagued by demons. Part of her kit includes holy water, holy chrism (oil) and salt which has been blessed by a priest. She uses these items to seal windows and doors, and in a pinch, they become weapons against the demons.

So, she’s always prepared, right?

Wrong. Where’s the drama in that? (She’s going to learn fairly soon that her kit no longer works.)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Create a “survival kit” for your character. It could be as small and jam-packed as a Navy SEAL’s, or could be as mundane as the items your character habitually loads into his pockets every morning. Whatever it is: have a good reason for the items to be there. It’s got to be something your character carries with him every day. It’s too Deus ex machina if the items show up only when your character needs them.
     
  • Think about all the ways those items can be countered. What logical things could happen to make the survival kit less than useful?
     
  • Write the scene where your character realizes that all his or her prep has been for naught. Lead him or her through determination to get the job done, frustration after frustration of items in the kit not working, realization of failure, decision to quit and/or determination to succeed no matter what.

Good Luck!

2 comments to Writer’s Prompt: What’s in Your Character’s Survival Kit?

  • Kelly, you can turn ANYTHING into a writer’s prompt, can’t you? I get it, that’s the overall point of your blogs every Friday: a good writer can get inspiration anywhere.

    Very interesting, about the survival kits. Obviously they’ve evolved over the years as experts interview and study cases of stranded people and what they need, as well as finding better ways to pack the stuff in a compact way. I am scratching my head over the bobby pins, though; used for picking locks?

    Two counter-examples to your Deus ex Machina warning. The ever-ready, universal survival kit can be used for humor purposes, such as Batman’s utility belt from the 60s TV show. Another example is the gadgetry provided by Q to Agent 007 in the James Bond movies; he always gives Bond exactly what he will need and no more. Seems like he could spare 007 a lot of trouble and actually tell him what he’ll be facing, not just give him the tools!

    • Hi Steve! Yes! I can turn anything into a writers’ prompt.

      It’s a gift. 🙂

      Your exceptions are spot on. But I could argue that in both those cases he audience expects both Bond and Batman to have the last word, as it were. Still: exceptions exist for everything.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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