Monday, 13 July 2009

Disasters happen - Linda Strachan

Almost every day, somewhere in the world, there are people who visit the threshold between life and death unexpectedly - and survive.

Whether it is a plane crash or an avalanche, if you believe the anecdotal evidence, the experience seems to create a need to live for today. All the unnecessary flotsam and jetsam that is a part of our lives, and at times seems almost the most important part, is suddenly irrelevant. We realise that in these moments of extreme danger they contribute nothing to our ability to survive.

As a writer you could look at this in various ways.

At the most basic level these events in themselves can create a gripping opening or a thrilling climax.

When editing we need to be brutal and give no quarter when redrafting our words; to cut away all the excess and trivia, polishing each piece like a skilled craftsman who cuts away at a diamond to reveal the perfect stone and then polishes it to glistening perfection.

In the plot we need some of the flotsam and jetsam of life to create problems for our characters and to add texture to the lives they lead. It can help to reveal the characters' values and their relationships.

Also, something that might seem trivial in a critical situation can have value in different circumstances. The pursuit of wealth may seem trivial if your life is at risk, but without the means to put food on the table we cannot continue to live a normal life.

Despite the reality check that a disaster creates we all need the minutiae of our daily lives to continue in some fashion.

All these aspects of disaster can feed the writer within us.

Don't forget - it's still not too late to enter the great book giveaway competition and sign the guestbook.


Nick Green said...

I was reflecting recently on the disproportionate numbers of medical dramas on television. Is it because we are fascinated by the more obscure symptoms of porphyria? Clearly not. Then I came up with a theory: that it's because we live in such a safe, insulated society, that hospitals are now one of the few places where we face that 'boundary between life and death' as you describe it - in short, it's one of the last remaining places where ordinary people can experience the ultimate drama. I wonder if that's the reason.

Linda Strachan said...

You could be right there, Nick. It's probably also the reason for the ones about real life crashes/rescues, paramedics, mountain rescue etc etc. People seem to need the excitement in their normally safe protected lives. Although saying that I know a lot of medics who watch the medical soaps, bit of a busman's holiday I would have thought!

Nick Green said...

In some ways it's a sad side-effect of our safer lives (not that I'd go back to a more dangerous life, myself). But one can imagine just how powerful something like 'Beowulf' must have felt to an Anglo-Saxon listener, who knew that every single day was a potential struggle between life and death, and that there really were wolves and bears out there, and probably monsters and elves too. Can we ever really get as 'into' a story as that? Do our safer lives insulate us from the great stories? It's an interesting line of discussion...