Monthly Archives: December 2012

Disaster and Dilemma

The other day I received a piece of advice which has made the world so much simpler: all novel-scenes should be either a disaster or a dilemma.

A disaster-scene is one where something goes horribly wrong for the hero: for example Mrs Baker the nefarious teacher who hates our hero’s guts, condemns him to spend wednesday afternoons with her while the rest of the class goes to Catechism or Hebrew class.

A dilemma-scene is where the hero must choose between two terrible alternatives: does she apologise to Mrs. Lynde, or does she spend the rest of her life in her bedroom?

This simplifies things marvellously: all we need to do is pick a disaster or a dilemma and build a scene around it. If there is no disaster or dilemma to base our scene off, then that scene probably doesn’t belong in the novel at all — or maybe it should be merged with another scene. The obvious exception is the falling action and denouement at the end of the novel where there is little conflict.

Dilemma scenes are always followed by disaster scenes, because dilemmas force the hero to make a bad choice — a choice that ends in disaster. If John’s dilemma is whether to care for his sick wife, or to go to work to earn money to buy medicine for her, then whatever choice he makes, the result is her death. If his dilemma is whether to eat a durian given to him by a potential sponsor — just before his fund-raising speech — then he either offends the potential sponsor by not eating the durian, or he eats it and as a result wretches so badly all through the speech that nobody sponsors him.

Scenes can have history, or humour, or other non-conflictuous elements, but the centrality should be the disaster or the dilemma. If this is not the case, I believe the scene is more of an intermission — and gripping novels don’t have intermissions.



I’m no Bear Grylls, I don’t go off in search of extremes, yet in some ways I find extremes fascinating. Not because they are so amazing, just because they are the the most each of us has achieved or the strongest we have experienced. “What is the furthest you have driven in one day?” “What is the furthest you’ve pushed a car in one day?” “What is the highest mountain you’ve climbed?””When was the coldest you’ve ever been?”. The answers to all these questions are fascinating.

Here are a few of my less than amazing, yet still fascinating extremes.

Coldest: The coldest I have ever felt was one day in June this year when I went for a run at The Pinnacle. Even though I knew it was frightfully cold outside, I foolhardily courageously left my jumper in the car. So as we “warmed up” into the strong wind I was only wearing shorts and a T-shirt while everyone else was shivering in their hoodies. The temperature was 7 or 8 degrees (45 or 46 degrees Fahrenheit), but with the strong wind taken into account, the “feels-like” temperature was probably 1 or 2 degrees.

Hottest: The hottest I have ever felt was less recently. I remember vaguely one time we were in Phnom Penh and our car’s air conditioning failed. This was during hot season and several times we parked in the sun around noon. We never wanted to get back in the car. The 35 C (95 F) outside temperature felt wonderfully cool by comparison.

Wettest (in full clothes): One day, as my Dad and I stepped out the door to go for a run, it started to rain. By the time we were out of the gate, it was absolutely pelting down. We ran for about half an hour, and when we got back my rain-gauge had about 29 mm in it. We went inside and the rain stopped on cue.

Sickest: In June 2007, when we were at the SIL conference, I came down with Dengue Fever. It was only a mild case, but for over a week I ate very little, seldom rose, and even though Dad gave me permission to play on the computer, I was too sick to feel like it. Don’t underestimate the importance of the words “ate very little”: I usually have a voracious appetite, and only tummy bugs can affect the size of my meals; Dengue is no tummy bug, and yet even on Pizza Night I don’t think I ate a full slice of pizza.

In the best health: This is much harder to say, because I am usually in good health and it is hard to pick one point from another. Nevertheless I will pick mid-July of this year. In July I ran over 140 kilometres (which also makes it the month where I ran the furthest); I had no sicknesses except for a brief cold late in the month; and I had no injuries or niggles. Early in the month I raced and easily beat two fellow runners who are usually of very similar ability to myself. Thus I would say mid-July was the peak of my fitness and health.

Furthest north: I travel to a whopping 18 degrees north when I go to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for conference each year.

Furthest south: The furthest south I have travelled is to Melbourne, Australia, 38 degrees south of the equator.

Furthest west: The furthest west I have travelled to is Colombo, Sri Lanka, 79 degrees east.

Furthest east: The furthest I have journeyed toward the rising sun is to Sydney, Australia, 151 degrees east.

Fastest: Now of course to measure how fast I am moving, I must first know what I am moving relative to. I may be sprinting inside a train at 18 km/h relative to the train, and at the same time at 117 km/h relative to the ground outside the train. So relative to the surface of the earth, the fastest I have travelled is about 1030 km/h: inside an Airbus A380 that was being pushed by a tremendous tail wind.

Farthest distance I’ve ridden a bicycle: This is, I believe, about 12 kilometres, which is rather pathetic. I intend to cycle around Singapore one day, however*.

Farthest distance I have swum: About 200 metres.

Longest book read: The Bible. Followed, I believe, by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; followed in turn probably by Brisingr; followed by a great many books in the vicinity of 600 pages.

Most Guinness World Records set in one day: Alas zero. It is my intention to break this personal record, but where there is not strong enough will, there is no way.

And that is all for now. Sorry about the great shortage of blog-posts of late, but I have been busy with other things (more honourably, a heap of schoolwork; less honourably, my new Facebook account).**

*In case I unintentionally deceived anyone, this comes in the same category as the Guinness World Records. I would like to cycle around Singapore, but since the will is doubtless too weak, it will probably never happen.

**To my subscribers: sorry. After I published this post I did some fixing up that I should have done before I published it.