Elephants Falling from the Sky

There’s a saying around our household that we use in reference to something that’s (extremely) unlikely to happen, and it’s when an elephant falls from the sky.

For example:  You should wear a helmet while working in the garden, so when an elephant falls from the sky you’ll be protected.

Sometimes getting plot points to flow together can challenge writers.  Many years ago I read about a serialization in a publication from even more years ago that ended with a cliffhanger each week.  One week the story left off with the hero trapped in the bottom of a very deep pit and no way to climb up the sides.

Next week, the story began with something like “With a mighty leap, Horatio escaped from the pit.”

Well, that was disappointing – not so much that Horatio escaped, but because the readers were presented an unsatisfactory solution to the problem.  An elephant might as well have fallen from the sky and missed our hero when it landed in the pit, and then Horatio could have climbed on top of it to get out.

Unless the hero had been established as somebody with superhuman jumping powers, such a solution only creates an elephant in the room.  Everybody knows the author set up a scenario for suspense, but then all the tension got lost in an out that was too easy and (extremely) unlikely.

Confronting such challenges can actually be a good way to get the creative juices flowing.  Should Horatio have wound up somewhere other than a pit?  Or does he find a secret door leading to a subterranean lair while trying to scale its walls?  These changes can tweak what the author originally intended, but they’ll also strengthen the story’s spirit.

Always remember, if there’s a loaded elephant gun in chapter one, it needs to be fired by chapter three.  Hmm, maybe that’s what makes those elephants fall from the sky….


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