When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my dad pulled me out of school one day to go flying with a friend of his. I’d never been in a plane before, but I remember how excited I was to fly (and how annoying I must have been to my classmates). My dad worked as a taxi dispatcher at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (before it was international), and he made friends with pilots and frequent flyers who needed cabs all the time.
We went up around noon, flew around for less than an hour and came back to the airport. The pilot, whose name I don’t remember, even let me take the yolk and feel the plane respond to my nervous movements. It was an amazing experience, but it also changed how I looked at the world around me.
The world felt smaller from the air. Moving fast so high above the ground showed me that people and places are tiny compared to the world around us. This was the first shift in perspective I can remember as a child, where I felt different about my place in the world, and the world’s place around me. Once seen, the shift could not be unseen.
New sights make old ones feel different.
After leaving the airport, my dad asked what I thought about the flight. I wasn’t sure how to express my feelings, but I remember saying I felt smaller after seeing people the size of ants. My dad didn’t wax poetic much, but he offered an insight that has stayed with me. He said, “People are as big as they allow themselves to be. If you think small, you’ll be small, but if you let your imagination run wild, there’s no telling how big you can be.” I’m trying to be bigger all the time.
The other change to my view came when I got home, and the next day I went to school. My mother and grandmother asked about my flight as soon as I walked in the door. I gushed about flying the plane, seeing tiny people and buildings, and how fast we flew. At school the next day, I got to tell the story all over again, and it may have been one of the first times I felt like a storyteller. While every word I said was true (as far as I can remember) I did my best to share how the flight made me feel.
In my writing, I try to do the same thing (even if the stories aren’t exactly true). If readers connect with my characters and feel what they do on the page, then I’m at least on the right track with my stories. Amazing settings, powerful adversaries, and complex plots are window dressing to the central idea that people (whatever form they take) and how they feel are the focus of storytelling.