Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

The mousie's luck runs out at last!

I meant to blog this before, but I was back at work this week and didn't get chance.

I caught the mouse on Wednesday night, not in the trap, which it treated with disdain, helping itself to the peanut bait and leaving the trap empty with just a few flakes of brittle brown peanut skin beside it on the carpet, along with a grain of mouse poo as a sort of calling card. No, I caught it in my food rucksack.

I was half undressed, getting ready for bed, when I remembered that I'd left my blood pressure tablets in the insulated rucksack I use to take my lunch to work.[*] Sleepily I ambled into my study, reached into the bag, which went, "Squeak-squeak-squeak-squeak-squeak! Squeak-squeak-squeak!" *rustle, rustle*

I went, "Whuh?!" whipped my hands out and jumped back, then (acting with great presence of mind I thought), I jumped forwards again and zipped the top shut.

I carried the bag into the bedroom where G was starting to undress. "I've got the mouse in my bag," I announced.

Fully dressed again, we both scuttled across the road to release the mouse into the field opposite. Making sure I was under a street light so I could see what I was doing, I carefully unzipped the bag and held it open. The mouse shot out onto the stone wall, revealing itself as the biggest, handsomest and sleekest mouse I have ever seen. (Including pet ones!). Which I suppose isn't surprising, considering how it's been stuffing itself with peanuts for weeks.

It paused for a moment to get its bearings, then took a flying leap off the wall to land a good 4 feet away on the pavement, whereupon it scuttled out of sight behind a telephone pole. We then ran back across the road, like two excited kids who have been up to no good.

It took me ages to get to sleep. Partly it was the remnants of the adrenaline jolt from being startled by the mouse and capturing it, but I also started to worry about the little beastie. Would it be all right out in the wet and dark? What if it was a mummy mouse and even now the little baby mice were crying with hunger?

Rational thought eventually dismissed that idea. As far as I know, mice are like rats in that the male is bigger than the female. That had to be a male mouse and we'd released it into a field with lots of blackberries and plant seeds and the passing students often drop bits of the snacks they eat as they walk. And if it ended up as dinner for an owl or weasel? Well, unfortunately, that's life. He'd had a good run under our floorboards eating our peanuts. Time now to take his chance in the wider world.

And he's definitely gone and there are no more mousies. I have left a test peanut out for two nights running and it was still there this morning, so I think it's safe to say we are now mouse free.


It was actually a bit more complicated than that. Those of us who write will have often encountered this problem. To progress the story, the character has to do X in the next scene, but the previous scene ended with her in a different room thinking about something entirely different, in this case, thinking about going to sleep. How do we get Helen from A to B and make her look in the bag where she will find the McGuffin -- in this case the mouse -- that will drive the next bit of the story? We could just say:

For some reason, Helen thought she'd better look in the rucksack.

No, that's feeble. That's the plot pushing the characters around and will not be convincing. OK, so how about showing the whole chain of events that led to that action?

It was bed time and Helen was getting undressed. As she took her shoes and socks off, the flea bite on her ankle started to itch. (NB there is as yet no cat in the house and Helen has no idea how she got the bite and it has nothing to do with the story, but this is what actually happened, so as this is a true story, that detail has to go in, right?)

She knew she mustn't scratch the flea bite or it might bleed and scar, so, remembering something someone had said on LJ about an entirely different sort of insect bite, she wondered if she had any soothing cream to put on it. She went down to the kitchen to look in the first aid box, but when she opened the kitchen cupboard, she noticed that the tupperware container where she keeps her medication wasn't there. It was only then that she remembered that she'd taken it to work that day. This was because on the previous day, ie Tuesday...

Aaarrrgh! By now the poor reader must be losing the will to live!

... she had rushed out to work, forgetting to take her tablets. She'd taken them as soon as she got home in the evening, but that morning, not wanting to take two lots too close together, she'd taken them to work with her to take at lunchtime. (I am aware that I've used various forms of the verb "to take" 6 times in that paragraph, but as this is an example of how not to write, I'm not going to worry about it.)

Fortunately there was a tube of suitable ointment in the first aid box, so Helen applied some to the bite. As she did so, she decided that she'd better get the tablets from the bag now, while she remembered, otherwise she knew that she'd be likely to rush out again the next morning and forget to take them again.

And so that was how she came to be looking in the insulated food rucksack at bedtime and thus caught the mouse in the act of foraging for something to eat...

I was brought up to always tell the truth and I do have a tendency to always want to explain everything in far more detail than is necessary when recounting anecdotes. It's usually better to bend the truth a bit to make a better story, but that always feels dangerously close to lying.

But as this clearly demonstrates, just because something is true, doesn't mean that it should be in the story! "But that's what really happened!" is not a good enough reason for rambling on at tedious length. It's the same with fiction too. I can end up thinking of long and convoluted reasons as to why characters do stuff and it's easy to get bogged down in and then he did this and then because this happened he did the other... Detail is good, but that doesn't mean that more detail is necessarily better.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded