Experience: Camping

There’s something to be said about spending the night beyond the confines of a ventilated, insulated dwelling. Spending time outdoors has become the subject of vacations and recreation in the developed world, with the most common and readily knkwn form, known as camping.

I always enjoy comparing the practices of modern humans to that of our ancestors anywhere between 10,000 and 100 years ago, since we/they aren’t really that different and physiologically haven’t changed all that much. The fact that we occasionally do for fun what our predecessors did when simply trying to not die, well, I’ve always found peculiar. Sex, hunting, and living outdoors have all seemed to take on new meanings to most folk.

Recently I was partaking a camping trip with some friends, who were for the most part unprepared for the experience. I had camped a lot in my youth, and practically lived in the woods until I was old enough to set up a dial-up internet connection. But these folk with whom I was camping were city people, one of whom had never in her life seen a deer. I knew I’d sort of taken for granted the experiences of “the woods” when I watched my companions attempt to lift a hatchet. They’d never cut a piece of wood in their life either, and not that I blame them, but it really left an impression.

It’s simple, I know. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for why a city-dweller would have no (need for) practical camping skills. But it reminded me how much in fantasy that too is taken for granted.

Take Frodo and the other hobbits who followed Strider/Aragorn out off into the sticks. They weren’t really all that happy, but they adjusted, and obviously the story isn’t about that. But these were folk who were quite at home in the Shire and as ‘earthy’ as the hobbits are, they lack the general toughness to just go out and sleep on some rocks.

The point is that I often read stories about people who otherwise spend their lives indoors up until the events of the story. Then when faced with going to eat/sleep/live outdoors for awhile (or in some cases and undetermined or uncertain amount of time), the characters just adapt without complaint or difficulty. I find this unconvincing.

Granted, a few paragraphs-worth of description regarding some character’s aversion toward sleeping with a log for a pillow might drag the plot a bit, but personally I prefer believable reactions are effective for character development, and by extension, contribute to story.

In other words, go try and sleep outside – camping lots, public park, front lawn, who cares – and see how prepared you are with keeping warm, fed, and comfortable. If you can translate that experience to your characters, profit.

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