So I recently had my annual physical.
I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t get any worse than sitting there shivering in that lovely little blue paper gown, knowing the experience is about to get a whole lot more uncomfortable, right? Wrong. In point of fact it can get quite a bit worse. Picture yourself sitting there, shivering in that lovely little blue paper gown, knowing the experience is about to get a whole lot more uncomfortable… when the fire alarm goes off in the building. Which is exactly what happened to me.
A whole lot of thoughts go through your head at a moment like that. I’m not proud of it, but my first thought was not, oh dear, I hope no one is hurt or in danger. It certainly wasn’t I should go see if I can help direct people out of the building to safety. No, the most powerful, overriding thought in my head was I will burn to death before I run out of the building in this little paper, giving-whole-new-meaning-to-the-term-backless, dress.
And I really think I would have. Even up on that table, draped in and sitting on the most flammable substance known to man, nothing could have induced me to leave that room. In what seemed like a lifetime but may have actually only been the moment or two it took for the alarm to stop ringing, I had time to conjure up an incredibly vivid scene in which several firefighters stood around my charred remains, shaking their heads sadly and commenting, “she was dressed all in paper, man—she didn’t have a chance!”
It’s no secret that writers are a strange breed. As bad as that situation seemed, I was of two minds about the potential disaster happening around me. Sure, my life could have been in danger. My pride most definitely was. Still, the second thought that popped into my head was that this situation was going to give me some great material for a story.
A narrative about a person going into the doctor’s office, having a physical, getting dressed and going home isn’t about to hold anyone’s attention. A story about someone in an already vulnerable position finding the situation rapidly degenerating around him as increasingly embarrassing and possibly dangerous events begin to unfold, well now you’ve got your reader right where you want him, on the edge of his seat.
As the old screenwriting adage goes, get your character up a tree, throw rocks at him then get him down gracefully. And I would add that the more rocks you throw before getting him down, the better. And if a branch breaks as he’s making his way out of the tree and he plummets several feet and dislocates his shoulder along the way, then has to dangle upside down with all the blood rushing to his head for a while before managing to flip himself around and drop to the ground and safety, that’s better yet.
The obvious question then presents itself: is being sadistic a necessary qualification for a writer? I don’t believe so. I don’t think a desire to glorify or revel in the suffering of our characters is a writer’s primary motivation. Speaking from personal experience, it often causes me actual pain to put my characters through what I put them through. What drives me, though, and what drives every writer I know or have ever read anything about, is the compelling need to respond to the fact of suffering and trials in real life by offering the hope that those trials, however devastating and hopeless they appear to be, can, by the grace of God and the power of perseverance and determination, be overcome.
That’s what good writing does. It offers hope to those walking through the valley of despair and discouragement. It inspires courage in the face of fear and overwhelming odds. It pushes you to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other when every step requires sheer effort of will. And above all, it affirms that you are not alone. That others have been up that same tree having the same rocks thrown at them and have somehow managed to not only survive but to come out stronger, more determined, and better equipped to face the next trial that will inevitably come along.
And that’s a good thing. Because if that next trial involves the threat of being surrounded by thick smoke and crackling flames while dressed in what in firemen’s terms is known as “kindling”, trust me, you are going to need all the hope, courage, strength and determination you can muster.
Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Visit Sara’s website: Choose to Press On
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