So yesterday was my gran’s eighty-third birthday, and sitting next to her at dinner while the family reveled brought to me a deep sense of the brevity of life. Not necessarily the idea that years are too short or long, but that they pass quickly, and that you could find yourself at the end in the wink of an eye. Yes, my gran has had many long years of happiness and sadness—all the ups and downs that come from a life well lived, and yet the end draws nearer for her, the sentimental moments with family become more bittersweet.
Coincidentally I found myself reading about Elric’s one true love in “The Weird of the White Wolf” by Michael Moorcock, and more particularly about her terrible demise—straight after my gran’s birthday celebration. So quick, so unexpected, so brutal. And the idea was hammered into my skull just then: We assume our lives will go on forever, not consciously, but somewhere deeper than that. We read about someone who was texting and driving on Facebook and died in a crash, and it’s terrible, but when we drive home that afternoon, we’re texting as we drive because we are somehow more immortal than that person was. We are something special, someone above death. We still have things to do, careers to build, children to raise, books to write, awesomeness to be, before our lives should end.
The most fatal assumption.
What awful decisions do we make without a second thought because we assume our lives will go on for years to come? In my gran’s eyes I saw the depth of love she felt for her family, and the pain she felt at the thought that she would not be there forever. I guess old age has a way of forcing you to face the inevitability of your death.
What does this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, this fatal assumption, I guess, can be applied to your writing too (wait, I’m preaching at myself here, aint I?). Have you ever had the bone-chilling premonition that *gasp* George R R Martin may DIE before he finishes his “A Song of Ice and Fire” books? I know, forgive me for putting you through the trauma of considering this thought. Think about rainbows and ponies. There *pats back* better?
No, not really. It is a realistic fear. And not just for dear sir George. Your book may be two chapters away from a glorious, epic finale that will explode in your readers’ brains. Don’t stop now, just write it! You never know what tomorrow will bring. Man, that sounds so morbid, but it is true. Considering the brevity of life will help you to live intentionally, to make your choices knowing it may be some of the last choices you make. And I suppose the bigger message is to value life, have your characters struggle with the false illusion of immortality, or have them come face to face with their own death, or the loss of those they love most if they should die. Mr Moorcock sure got me there. Just a few short pages, and man! No words.
And (ye gods if you don’t do this…*shakes fist*) have people die in your book. It’s reality. Kill off the main character if you want to, whatevs (think of the Starks, the Red Wedding). Make it real, and readers will lose themselves in the story. I’m not saying there aren’t a billion other things a story needs, all I’m saying is the crux of a story is its heart, the love and relationships between characters, and having those relationships in jeopardy. Yes, even for Grimdark Fantasy. Especially for it, perhaps. Even if it all goes to shit (like in Joe Abercrombie’s books), it’s real. Characters we love die or face death and torture, and we want more of it.
And finally, this all had me thinking about what mattered most to me and what I would do if I found out I had a week left to live, or (more realistically) if I started living as if tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed (because it isn’t).
I would love my husband and daughter more. I would use every opportunity to make them feel special, to get the extra hug and kiss. I would rush less, and look into their eyes more. All these small things, it turns out, are the things that matter most. Not the book I’m writing, or the career I’m chasing. Not the bills, the government policies ruining my peace, the crime rate, or the traffic (people in Africa understand my pain there, but yes *shock, horror* it isn’t that important in the end). None of the things I waste my brain juices on matter as much as the most valuable people in my life.
Does this mean you should stop writing your book and spend time with your son or wife or mother? Well, it may mean just that, or it could mean that you should stop faffing about, get down to business, and finish the damn thing so that you can go spend time with that lovely family. Or, it could mean that you should take your time, put heart into your book, and give the readers something that lingers with them long after they’ve forgotten that battle scene and those cool metallic steampunk horses you came up with. Maybe if you write it well, someone may decide not to text and drive that night, or decide not to take that call but to play catch with their son instead. Your writing could save someone’s life! (Well, it is possible, isn’t it?)
So there ya go. Write. Don’t Write. Noodles. Don’t noodles.
Whatever you choose, value the things (and by that I mean people) that are REALLY the most important.
Image by jmringuet