In a helicopter I saw the vast blue and turquoise sea stretching endlessly to the horizon. From this vantage point the ocean looked calm and clear as glass. At one point it met a narrow black sand beach bordering a jungle. A valley was flanked on either side by hills covered with lush green trees and numerous waterfalls. It looked so primordial and untouched that I expected dinosaurs to appear. It was truly a tropical paradise.
While snorkeling I saw numerous types of colorful fish with unpronounceable names like the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa. I observed their everyday behavior close up. Fish lined up like cars going through a car wash to enjoy a “cleaning station” where smaller fish swim into their mouth and gills and onto their scales to eat tiny parasites.
However, one beautiful day at the beach turned unpleasant and then potentially dangerous. First, I was batted about by waves while snorkeling and pushed into rocks. A large eel ate a beautiful fish and a man speared an octopus. Moss covered lava close to shore caused people to slip and fall. One lifeguard grabbed her megaphone and yelled for everyone to get out of the water because of 15-foot tiger shark sightings while other lifeguards jumped on their surfboards and paddled out to warn people who didn’t hear the warning.
Looking back, the scariest part of the day actually took place two hours prior to the shark warning. Earlier that morning I watched my youngest niece make her first ocean swim with her swim class. She was so far out that she looked about the size of a microdot then disappeared from view. When the class returned, the kids were delighted because a pod of dolphins swam underneath and around them part of the time. The instructor said the dolphins nudged them on a different course and departed once the swimmers made it to a buoy close to shore. In retrospect, could this playfulness actually have been the dolphins protecting the kids from the sharks? I’ve heard of dolphins saving humans but never expected it would happen to someone I know.
What I learned from this experience is that life may appear tranquil from a great distance but there can be unseen currents churning beneath the surface – some potentially deadly. I think this is true with a gripping book. In the beginning a character often appears to have the perfect family, job and friends. Series of unexpected challenges increasing in intensity ratchet up the tension and a character may be unaware of what lies beneath. As we move closer to the situation, the shiny façade fades and cracks show. Delving further into the character’s life we discover why she committed a crime or why she was the victim. Along the way allies assist and steer the hero away from danger toward the best path ensuring a satisfying conclusion.