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Monday, 24 May 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

It was Blanche DuBois who always relied on the kindness of strangers.

A popular theory is that Blanche was delusional – strangers don’t exhibit kindness and, if they do, it’s certainly not for the right reasons. Just think, if your protagonist suddenly began depending on strangers to help her through a tricky situation you’d believe (and your reader would believe) that you were just trying to get out of a sticky situation by using contrived means. I would’ve said the same myself on Friday but I had an experience over the weekend that reaffirmed my belief in the kindness of human beings.

Note for future reference: piggy-backs on beaches with very shallow pockets should be avoided if at all possible.

It was sunny. We were frolicking on the beach; running around, paddling in the North Sea till our feet turned blue. Then on the way back to the car I checked my pockets. The one thing I’d been carrying was missing: my mobile phone.

I panicked; no other word for it. Irrational as it might seem for a twenty-two year old I was petrified about what my father would say. The better half convinced me it was in the car and we went back up the hill expectantly. It wasn’t visible but he said it was probably in there anyway. I left him in the car park and went back down to search for it myself, mindful of the fact the tide was coming in.

I’d been wandering around for maybe twenty minutes when I gave up hope. I’d combed a good stretch of beach and if it was beyond that… well, a fisherman would probably catch it in his net and serve it up in batter. As you do in such situations, I tried to think up reasons why this wasn’t my fault. Then, as I walked slowly up the beach one last time I was approached by three teenagers.

My initial feelings weren’t what you’d term positive. Then they asked me if I’d lost a phone. My relief was palpable. They explained that they’d found it down near the water and had sent my dad a text to tell him they had it and would hold onto it until he could pick it up. The fact my father was a hundred miles away was neither here nor there. The very idea that they’d had the foresight to send that message and didn’t just pocket the phone was amazing to me. Added to that, they’d actively been looking for me.

I walked off eternally grateful. However, it struck me afterwards that if I’d tried putting that incident in either my novel or a short story the reader’s imagination would probably have been tested. We don’t believe in human kindness anymore. The idea that a possession would be returned by such lucky means is laughable.

This realisation does make writing fiction a tad tricky though. How are you supposed to write honest coincidence, honest good fortune? If everything has to have a plausible route and outcome (as I mentioned last week) then where does human kindness and their unexpected natures come into things?

I’m not sure myself.

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