View Full Version : Grab Something

03-06-2005, 10:49 PM
I can't get over how difficult a small detail is becoming.

The situation: A 40-something female, not particularly athletic, steps off the edge of a solid floor in the entryway of her condo, not realizing the adjoining floor is no longer present. (It's a long story--and I hope a good one!) She falls through and saves herself by grabbing the edge of the solid floor where she was standing a moment before. The entryway is approximately 4 or 5 feet wide and furnished with only a shallow table where mail tends to accumulate.

The problem: A woman who's not fit may not be able to pull herself up if she catches the edge with both hands. What might be present, probably affixed low on the wall or on the floor, that she might grab and use to help haul herself back up? The table is too light.

So far, all I've thought of is cords--telephone and TV cable--but those might easily pull out of the wall or even break, plus I'm not sure that cable installers leave enough length between attachment staples for her to be able to grab it at all.

Any ideas?

Maryn, taking care of the pence so the pounds take care of themselves

three seven
03-06-2005, 10:52 PM
Hang on, I don't quite get it. Is she dangling over the entrance hall? If not, what's she dangling over? And how far down is it?

03-06-2005, 11:25 PM
When I think "entryway" I think a fairly narrow corridor, and one that would expand in to a larger room. Would it be at all possible she can brace herself-- and arm or two -- against the flanking walls? Or if the walls are structured in a way that she could actually grab on to them (jutting corners) and pull herself out? I have a picture in my mind, but there's no way I can convey it with accuracy to explain myself.

The other thing I thought about would be the possibility of a staircase, and she could grab the bars....?

three seven
03-06-2005, 11:31 PM
Oh wait, I read it differently this time. Has the building collapsed, so she's hanging hundreds of feet above a pile of rubble?

03-07-2005, 05:08 AM
It'll take a few minutes to explain better. Let me frame it and I'll post more tomorrow. Stay tuned!


03-07-2005, 05:06 PM
Let me see if I can elaborate in a way that's minimally comprehensible. (Change is good, right?)

My character is on the top floor of an upscale three-story condominium building loosely based on my mother-in-law’s condo. Each unit has an entryway that is visual only, not actually separated from the large living room by walls, railing, or anything but floor treatment. The entryway is tiled in marble and adjacent to the coat closet. (This, by the way, looks pretty but was a terrible idea on the builder’s part--marble is so slick under wet or snowy shoes!) The living room has a wood floor and area rugs. However, the wood floor is gone.

My character cannot see that the living room floor is gone and has no reason to think anything is amiss. She’s going to come in through the door, stand on the marble-floored entryway, then walk into the living room without thought or hesitation, exactly as if the wooden floor were there.

Since it’s not, she’s going to start to fall through to the next floor, except that she grabs the edge of the marble flooring. Now she needs something sturdy enough to grasp and hold onto as she hoists herself back up. She is a normal woman who can't do a chin-up or climb a rope. (Can you?)

She has to grab something present in the entryway--the living room's beams, framing, wiring, etc. are gone for the same reason the floor is gone.

That’s what I’m fishing for, what she can grab. I asked one of my beta readers, who proposed a door stop, the kind on a spring with a rubber cap (sproinnnngggg!--but probably nowhere near strong enough) or a large eyebolt which can be used in conjunction with a hook near the bottom of the door to keep it from closing during, say, a move. (The door closes with one of those pneumatic things.) A tough grab, since it would be right near the baseboard and most people don’t walk along the wall when the whole room is available. Initially he was all hot for the phone cord until he learned she couldn't lift her body weight with her arms.

Gee, maybe I should have had her work in a circus instead of an office!


03-07-2005, 07:35 PM
How about an underfloor pipe of some sort - water, gas (heightens the tension.. will it break?!?!) or a pipe holding wires? That way she could hang from it, then swing her legs up and onto the pipe also.
Just a suggestion.... good luck!

three seven
03-07-2005, 07:51 PM
Ok, you see... what I'm thinking is, even if she's of average height she's got to have a vertical reach of between 6' and 6'4". The ceiling height is going to be what, 8 feet? Plus you can reasonably add about a foot for the actual depth of the floor that she's holding onto, right?

That'd make the actual drop beneath her feet somewhere in the region of 36-40 inches, assuming that there wasn't a table or sofa directly below her, so in my book it's a no-brainer.

Rather than try and hoist herself up on something that isn't there, wouldn't she just simply let go?

03-07-2005, 07:57 PM
Rather than try and hoist herself up on something that isn't there, wouldn't she just simply let go?
...not if the floor has vanished for the entire three stories beneath her.

Maryn, I've puzzled and mulled over this quite a bit--and I think you've written yourself into a bit of a corner. Even if there was a stout rope right at hand, if she doesn't have the upper body strength to do the overhand pull-up to chin the marble floor (and most women don't) then it's rather hard to imagine she's going to be able to pull herself out of a yawning hole by other, easier-to-hold-onto means.

Perhaps she could be a rock-climber hobbiest, as a means of staying fit...

Sorry. I'm not much help. :)

three seven
03-07-2005, 08:14 PM
...not if the floor has vanished for the entire three stories beneath her.
I did ask that before, but there's been no suggestion that this is the case.

I haven't yet wondered out loud where the floor has gone, but I'm pretty sure that if all the floors had fallen out of the building there'd be a fire dept cordon around it at the very least...

03-08-2005, 01:08 AM
Sorry, three seven, I don't mean to withhold necessary information. It just sounds so much like the work of a loon, I hesitate.

The laws of physics are different for this character. Organic material is intangible--she can see wood floors, beams, framing, etc. but they are not there to the touch and do not support her. She does not yet know this.

She would fall the full three stories, to the poured-concrete basement, and thin layers of paint and any carpet she encountered would not be sufficient to break or slow her fall.

Side note: I've got a physics student going over my details, all the weight vs. mass stuff and lots more I never really learned. Questions come up every time I write!


three seven
03-08-2005, 02:13 AM
Ah. Right. That changes things a bit. You see how a little information goes a long way? ;)
To answer your question, I'd say she's screwed and that the only way to get her out of this situation is to not get her into it in the first place. Unless you give her bigger biceps.

HANG ON THOUGH, I've got a question. I'm prepared to accept that she's managed to get all the way to her apartment without finding out about her problem.
However, I'd take issue with the suggestion that carpets etc wouldn't break her fall. She may well be able to pass through a wooden floor, but a carpet cannot. If the carpet covers the floorboards, she wouldn't come into contact with them and therefore wouldn't fall through. After all, it's not the floor that's got the problem - it's her.

03-08-2005, 04:02 AM
Isn't there *any* way someone can come along and pull her out?

three seven
03-08-2005, 04:15 AM
No, because as a person they'd be constructed from organic matter. Think, Katie, THINK! ;)

03-08-2005, 04:37 AM
If she's walking from the entrance door and crossing the marble floor at a normal pace toward the wooden floor, how does she manage to spin around in mid-fall to grab the marble floor behind her? Unless she's slowly walking backwards, I have trouble visualizing it. Does she have super catlike reflexes?

Anyway, the sub-floor might contain water pipes as per MarkEsq's suggestion, especially if the kitchen or bathroom are nearby or flanking the entrance. Also electrical conduits run between support beams in many buildings.

I'm going to be a Mr. Pickypants, though, and point out that in the sort of upper-middle class townhouse that would have a marble foyer, the wooden flooring would probably be blind nailed tongue & groove planking rather than glued-down tile.

Narrow planking (1 1/2") would have one inch nails spaced every 3 1/2 inches.
Wider planking would use longer 2-inch nails spaced one every 8-10 inches.

Assuming she can't pass through metal, she's going to be pretty cut up on her way down if you have widely spaced nails. Like, bleeding a lot! So use narrower planking. She's still going to be cut, but the nails will stop her from going through. You give up the dramatic dangling scene, but gain a dramatic "crawling across invisible nail heads" scene.

Or just use stick-on wood flooring and use pipes in the sub-floor. :D

03-08-2005, 04:40 AM
Ah, Seven, how right you are. Robot? What about a robot?

Sorry for being ridiculous Maryn, but I just have no clue. I have a similar something that happens in my own WIP, but someone does come to haul her out of the predicament... or else she falls. Haven't completely decided yet. The fall could be interesting.

But wait... thinking about the carpet thing Seven said. Even if the floorboards underneath the carpet couldn't support her, couldn't the hanging carpet create a type of hammock?

- Katie, who was never good in physics.

03-08-2005, 04:43 AM
Additional thought: Heating ductwork also runs between support beams. Plumbing leading to steam radiators sometimes does, too.

I found a link with some more detail about wood flooring (http://www.installingwoodfloors.com/). The picture on the bottom left shows what I mean about blind nailing. Those diagonal nails will run along the edge of each plank.

03-08-2005, 06:14 PM
Ooh, some good ideas here. I, too, never liked the odds of flailing blindly behind one's own body and catching something, whether it's a TV cable or the edge of the marble floor. Even if she's positively feline and extraordinarily quick, won't her shoulders be dislocated? Uh, yeah... (Ow-ow-ow!)

I'd already thought about the nails, even started work in which she manages to rest some of her weight on a couple near one foot, but the detail of how they're used in installation is... chilling. Many, many more blind nail heads than I realized! She'd be sliced like wallpaper being soaked off.

Physics Guy brought up the carpet issue when I proposed she first start to think through the organic-inorganic problem by falling through something. He noted that an inorganic substance resting on an organic one would function normally. He suggested quality carpet, 100% wool with a jute backing, in the unit below hers, so she'd fall one more floor, then a highly forgiving landing. We figured if she really can't pull herself back up, she can fall a ways, then just come back up the stairs. Now, of course, I realize that she'd be injured by nails in the floor(s) she passes through. This will not work.

However, the ductwork and/or pipes to steam heat seems like a workable solution. She steps onto the floor that isn't there and drops only a few inches, that foot resting on a duct. Maybe she scratches an ankle, but nothing serious. Point made, the floor is intangible to her, but danger and uncharacteristic circus stunts avoided.

Thanks, everybody! This has helped me quite a bit.

Maryn, happily dreading the next problem that arises

three seven
03-08-2005, 11:04 PM
Physics Guy noted that an inorganic substance resting on an organic one would function normally. He suggested quality carpet
I told you that yesterday! Nobody ever listens to me! Baaaaaah.

03-09-2005, 09:36 PM
There, there, three seven. You were right, but Physics Guy helped me craft the 'rules' last spring. We talked a lot about carpet and vinyl floors and cement and wood chips and car seats and rain...

But if you'd like to be consulted every time I have a dopey question--which is nearly every day, seems like--I'd be delighted to 'include you in'! C'mon, say you will...