Don’t be fooled by the picture. It goes down four stories in about twenty feet. Once at the bottom, the victim—sledder—has a few options. Bail and hope for the best? Ram the Music Building? Farthing Auditorium? Or attempt to steer into the 6 foot wide safety zone, where even then you have to stop quickly to avoid sailing off the loading dock?
It has claimed many broken legs and arms. A piano player broke her back and was unable to play again. A friend of mine will walk with a limp for the rest of his life, thanks to a complicated break. And once, long before we got here, a student cracked her skull, taking her life.
So clearly, this is a greatly desired location any time it snows. Idiotic frat boys and mildly-intoxicated music majors alike flock to the top of the hill, waiting their turn for the thirty-second RUSH.
My freshman year, a friend and I were walking out of the music building across the top of the hill. The crowd there was pretty amazing, and we stood to watch them for awhile.
People are IDIOTS.
Not only were they going down this gigantic mountain, they were piling as many people on a sled as possible, going down backwards, going down on lunch trays from the cafeteria. My friend and I laughed at their stupidity, then continued on about our way.
A little later, I came back. The huge crowd had dissipated, still leaving a few people around. Most of the people left were friends of mine. They cajoled, whined, complained, reasoned. Because they know me.
I’m the responsible one. I had been at college for a semester and never been to a single party. I always studied and practiced and never missed class or rehearsals. I didn’t take stupid risks, I knew better than to screw up.
In spite of my sanity, they finally talked me into it. So I grabbed the most durable looking sled around. My friends coached me: “Now, as you’re going down, use your hands to steer! Make sure you stay away from the music building, the hill kinda curves so you want to go towards it. Aim more for the auditorium, but if it looks like you’ll get too close, bail!”
A quick shove, and I was off. Trust me, with a hill that steep, you pick up speed quickly. Before I know it or I’ve even had time to enjoy myself, the music building grew WAY larger than I had anticipated.
“BAIL! BAIL!” the top-of-the-hill-spectators screamed.
So I did. But the thing is, I was still going about forty miles and hour. When I rolled off the sled, my only awareness was of was pain and snow and white. And finally, I stopped.
I just lay there for a second, hearing the laughter and applause of those watching. “That was the best bail ever!” my friend yelled.
Finally I pulled myself up. “I am NOT going to f***ing do that again!” I yelled. Everyone laughed. I stayed outside long enough to watch a few more people go down, then bid everyone farewell and went back inside to lick my wounds.
Result? I broke my collarbone.
Now, why does any of this matter? Because that was completely out of character for me. I have never been a big risk taker, and never really do stupid things like that. Yet totally out of the blue, (and NOT just because of peer pressure, let me be very clear in that—I had kind of been wanting to anyway,) I did something so incredibly dumb.
In real life, people, do this sort of thing. You can think you have someone pegged as rational, then they go down Suicide Hill. But what about fiction?
We have all been discussing (myself as well!) how important characterization is, and making sure all actions are rational for the characters, but now I’m starting to wonder. My characters always follow their own rules, but is that really realistic? Sometimes people do some things that don’t fit their character at all. Should our characters always do things that are predictable for them? Or is a completely bizarre, out-of-character action sometimes acceptable?
Note: I’m not pushing any idea; I’m opening up an honest question for discussion.