When I go out for a run in the morning, I have three things stuck in the mesh pockets of my shorts: the keys to my apartment – which sound their warning jingle as I run through concrete streets – my driver’s license, and a post-it note.
On that note is written the following: In the event of an emergency, please contact my sister L______. You can reach her at 215-555-9876. Thank you.
Sometimes, the post-it is lost, and I am forced to write a new one, which is quickly folded around the driver’s license (a choice of neatness and habit). A cell phone would make more sense, but only in an emergency context; as it applies to running, such a choice would only cause my phone to meet with the pavement regularly.
You or I would think nothing of having an emergency number on our phone; but writing it down repeatedly, along with a message, creates in me an odd feeling of uncertainty and numbered days. Youth is not accustomed to dealing with mortality; Youth will think of it as a tragedy to lose one’s life in these, the years of promise and vigor.
I try to shake that notion, and think of it as a simple precaution. If I am the unfortunate victim of someone’s poor driving, I’d like for my family to know it. Hence, the post-it.
As I laced up this morning, my thoughts wandered to death in fiction; too often, writers will kill for the sake of a shock, or convenience. The deaths that truly affect us are the ones that come out of nowhere, that, sometimes, will make no sense – such as a young man, out on a morning run, hit by an out-of-control car. We are not reminded of the killer’s cruel touch, or a heroic deed with a death like that. We are reminded, instead, of the fragile lives we live.
When you write, use that. Know that. Most people will never know a brave moment in their life, as we see them in books or on the screen; but they will know a weak moment – a fragile moment – not unlike the one I described. They will connect with it to a much greater degree, and it offers you a powerful opportunity for plot and character development.
How your characters navigate tragedy is up to you; I only ask that you do it well.
P.S. If you should be interested in reading a great book dealing with life’s fragile moments, I can’t recommend Inio Asano’s Solanin enough.