Posted by: harrisonjones | August 15, 2013

The Reality of Fiction

Writing fiction involves imagining a scenario and then attempting to insert one of your characters in order to describe what he or she experiences. That’s the easy part. The more difficult task is enticing your reader to join the scene on an emotional level. It is profoundly satisfying when someone tells me that they read the book and felt as if they were in the cockpit and knew the characters well. Okay, enough literary babbling about fiction and my warped imagination. I want to talk about reality and ask you to identify with real people and real situations.

You’re in a passenger seat on a Boeing 777, and you’ve occupied that tiny space for the last fourteen hours. Your butt is numb and you sincerely hope that you smell better than the person sitting next to you. The announcement of final approach into San Francisco is music to your ears and in mere minutes you will be free of the granite seat and on with your life. The safety briefings, fourteen hours ago, are distant and vague memories. The rumble of the landing gear extending into the slipstream at over 200 miles per hour is a comforting event. The wheels are your friends and will cushion the touchdown. The rumbling subsides as the airplane slows…

You’re sitting on the fold down flight attendant seat at mid-cabin. It has been a long duty day, but a smooth ocean crossing, and a nice San Francisco layover is an anticipated blessing. You snug the shoulder harness up and survey the cabin for landing. Your mental checklist assures you that all is well, but you consider the contingencies anyway. There are a few elderly passengers and small children that might present a challenge in an evacuation, but you note the seats occupied by able bodied men that you think might be able to keep their head and assist in an emergency. It occurs to you that one flight attendant for every fifty passengers might be good economics on a normal day, but not so much otherwise. The familiar rumbling and groaning sounds of final approach give you no cause for concern, and you begin to consider your after landing duties. The whine of the huge jet engines fades as the power is reduced for touchdown and…

You occupy the best seat in the house. The window seat in the left side of the cockpit is yours to enjoy. You’re in the process of falling in love with your new ride as you complete the initial operating requirements for the Boeing 777 type rating. The check captain has peppered you with tidbits of information all day to enhance the final stages of your training and now it’s time for the approach into San Francisco. You’re happy that visibility is good, but irritated by the fact that the ILS is not available. There is no electronic guidance for descent to the runway. Oh well, there are plenty of other automated options on the 777 and the auto throttles are available in any case. There is always the radical idea of turning off all the bells and whistles and flying the airplane yourself. You make your plan and brief the approach based on your choices, including the proper speeds and the unlikely possibility of a missed approach. The runway is in sight at the edge of the bay and you call for gear down, final flaps, and the checklist about five miles out over the water. You thumb the trim switches a few times to stabilize the airplane and remind yourself that it’s all over but the grease job. It becomes quiet now as the sterile cockpit rules dictate that no extraneous conversation is allowed. You click the seat one notch forward and one notch up to get the proper perspective to keep the runway centered in the windshield. The check captain in the right seat makes the routine call outs…200 above…100 above…

If there is a point to be made here, I guess it’s that fiction does not have to stray that far from reality to be tense and unpredictable. Good fiction usually involves the routine scene being interrupted by the unexpected and being drawn into the tension and emotion of dealing with it. Then you put the book down and go to bed. The unexpected occurrence in reality can sometimes create emotions that must be dealt with for a lifetime. The real story of the Asiana 777 in San Francisco will emerge over time and I pray for everyone involved.

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Responses

  1. Emotional participation no problem from all three points of view – Thank you for an excellent article. LSP

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog, Leslie. The emotional toll on the crew, passengers, and first responders must be a heavy burden and I wish them all the very best. Let’s hope the NTSB recommendations will enhance future safety.

  2. Harrison, excellent thoughts for both readers/writers and aviators.

    • Thanks, Joe. I’m sure everyone involved has a story to tell and the emotional toll must be very high.


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