This statement might put me on some sort of future arsonist watch list, but there are a lot of problems that could be solved by copious amounts of fire. The management of this blog absolutely does not recommend nor endorse solving any real world problems with copious amounts of fire, excepting those problems that can be solved through the completely legal application of copious amounts of fire, such a hot dogs needing to be warmed or bonfires needing to be started.
Alright, that should have me in the clear.
I’m pulling this idea largely from my wife, who has seen far more horror movies than I have. There are frequently points in those movies where the problems being faced by the protagonists could be very easily solved by the application of fire. This could be because a largely wooden house is trying to kill you. This could be because the monsters are in an isolated area with lots of trees around. Just watch horror movies, and think to yourself at what point the problem could be caused if the good guys would just rub some sticks together then walk away just quickly enough to outpace the fire line. It’s a non-trivial percentage. Even when it’s not fire, it may be some other simple solution that the characters are overlooking in the moment.
As a writer, this can be a problem. Because viewers and readers pay attention to such things, and consider such options. Or, if this isn’t something all readers and viewers do, and something just my wife and I do…perhaps I should be placed on a future arsonist watch list. That’s not the point. The point is: there is a potentially extreme but easily accomplished solution to a problem, there needs to be a reason why it won’t work. There needs to be a reason not to just burn everything down to the ground and let the fire brigade sort through the ashes at the end.
Recent show that did this well? Fringe. During their October 7th episode “Alone in the World” (available on Hulu at the time of writing this post) the team is faced with a lethal subterranean fungal growth. The solution? Copious amounts of fire! It was the first idea anyone on the team suggested, the first that they thought to try, high fives were exchanged on our sofa watching the episode because it’s great to see someone go for the simple solution. However, it turned out the fungal growth was psychically linked to a young boy who would also be killed by this apocalypse of burning. Another solution was needed, but fire was suggested, attempted, and found to not work.
So while working on a plot, it’s essential to be aware of any simple solutions to complex problems presented in the piece, and it’s good to have a reason why they just won’t work. Because someone reading the book, someone watching the show or movie, they’re going to come up with that simple solution. And they’re going to be irate with either the characters or the work as a whole when it’s not at least suggested and dismissed as untenable.
Because sometimes, you really can just burn it with fire.