Transport Options, by Elizabeth Kay

What sort of transport is there going to be in your book? How is your hero/heroine going to effect an escape when the odds are stacked against them? There are so many things to consider, and being both believable and original can be a tough call. The genre and the age-group are the most important things to consider at the outset. Children are the easiest, as suspending disbelief comes naturally during play. Adults are a bit harder. I’ve divided things into categories, to make things easier for me as well as everyone else! So I’m taking the UK and the US as standard here, and then I’ll deal with the rest of the world. Many categories overlap, as the entertainment industry has borrowed from a multitude of sources. I’ve excluded transport which is regarded as more of a sport, such as skating, hang-gliding, wind-surfing, scuba-diving, etc., although they may be relevant when you’re trying to find a way of getting someone out of a sticky situation.

Ordinary everyday

Underground or subway, train, tram, boat (both sail and engine-powered). Submarine, aeroplane, hovercraft, horse (occurs in most categories, due to impressive back catalogue). Funicular railway, bicycle, E scooters, helicopter. Make sure you know the right vocabulary, too! This is from a book called The Bone Brokers.

 “I don’t think so,” said Safari-suit. Than he simply pulled out a pistol, and levelled it at us. “Stop wasting time,” he said, “and get in the chopper.”

“It’s a helo,” muttered the pilot. “Not a chopper.”

I felt as though I had suddenly found myself up to my ankles in quicksand.

“Get in the bloody chopper,” said Safari-suit, waving the pistol at us.

Helo,” muttered the pilot.

“Oh for god’s sake, Alan,” said Safari-suit. “Why are pilots all such pedants?”

“Because using the wrong term when you’re airborne can make the difference between life and death.”

Safari-suit turned back to us. “Get in the bloody helo, then.”

Rest of the World

I have travelled in or on most of these in one continent or another, with varying degrees of discomfort. Camel, donkey, zebu cart, tuk-tuk, elephant, dog sled, rickshaw, canoes (or dugouts) punts (or mokoros). They all have their own disadvantages – elephants tend to stop if they see bananas on sale, mokoros are subject to hippo attacks in the Okavango Delta, tuk-tuks have a flagrant disregard for traffic, and camels spit. Huskies are over-enthusiastic, and consequently a sled will take off at full speed.


Christine. Stephen King is the business when it comes to scary. Christine is a psychopathic car that re-assembles itself every time someone takes a sledgehammer to it.

Hal. An early example of when AI is in charge of a spaceship, which doesn’t turn out well.

Science Fiction

Spaceships, teleporting, swapping bodies with an alien.



Incorporates retro-futuristic technology adapted from 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery, and takes place in an alternative world. Philp Pullman’s Northern Lights is a good example of this.

Adaptations of balloons and air ships

Steam trains, especially ones with cowcatchers on the front of the engine.

Paddle steamers. In the early 19th century, paddle wheels were the predominant way of propulsion for steam-powered boats. 


Becoming a fairy and growing wings. Even as an adult, I have dreamt I could fly. It’s so easy in a dream, you just stand there and find yourself gradually rising above the ground until you’re at rooftop height thinking, why didn’t Ido this before? I didn’t have wings, though.

Becoming a mermaid and growing a fishtail as well as discovering you can breathe underwater.

Dragons. I had a lot of fun with my dragon airline Easy-flap in The Divide.

Tansy packed her things, and made her way to the fire-breather terminal on her own. She had to queue, and she stood there seething. It would be getting dark soon; flights stopped at sunset.

There was only one fire-breather left in the embarkation area at that time in the evening, but fortunately it was one of the Whopper range. Tansy preferred the big ones; the take-off would be smoother, and there was more leg-room as the seats on the saddle were arranged in two rows either side of the creature’s spine. There would be in-flight catering, as well – a little table flipped down from the seat in front, beneath the windshield, and there would be packets of nuts and miniature gourds of fertle-juice.


Magic Carpets are good fun, too. From Back to the Divide.

“Let me introduce myself,” said the rug, its voice emanating from different bits of its surface. “I’m the very latest design. Top of the range. My name is Nimblenap; Nimby for short.”

Felix burst out laughing.

The rug rippled with displeasure. “What’s wrong with Nimby?”

“It’s an acronym,” said Felix. “Not In My Back Yard.”

“I can land just about anywhere,” said the carpet, offended. “From the smallest back yard to the most inaccessible mountain ledge.”

“Felix is from another world,” said Betony, not wishing to waste time in explanations.

Well shuttle my weft,” exclaimed the rug in an awe-struck voice. “What an honour it is to meet you.”

“Creep,” said the rush mat.

“Smarmy git,” said someone else.

“We’ll take the polite one,” said Felix, pointing at the cherry red rug.


James Bond films tend to mix and match as many methods of transport as possible, and switching from one to another is exciting, with unpredictable consequences. In the TV series Hunted, watching the fugitives trying to outwit the security services was fascinating, so you may also want to consider which forms of transport have CCTV, and which don’t. In a book, the different pictures inside your head lend a lot of visual variety to a chase of any sort, so don’t opt for the obvious. And remember that animals are a law unto themselves, however well-trained, and even the most docile old horse may decide that there is a wolf lurking behind that boulder.







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