On Fear And Life
By Nick Hight
When I had the opportunity to switch schools, one of the more subtle factors that kept me at my current school was my headmaster. I love my headmaster. In my opinion, he is very wise, very knowledgeable, and probably one of the best public speakers you'll ever come across. He's been known for playing techno music so loud in assembly that it makes even today's teens feel uncomfortable, organising a whole-school swim in the sea on the coldest day of the year (that's over 1000 students, thank you very much), and even wearing a college graduation gown during one of his speeches. The topics of his speeches have ranged from wooing women (we are an all-boys school) to gangsters to fashion to spirituality, and he often tells several entirely different stories before weaving them together seamlessly at the end in order to emphasise a point.
Which leads me to one of the main reasons why I love my headmaster: unlike others I've experienced, he doesn't talk about school. He talks about life. He talks about things that really matter.
A few weeks ago during assembly, he began his speech by mentioning norse mythology (because he is just legendary like that). He said that, in such myths, the time of any human's death was preordained; that it didn't matter how they chose to live their life – whether it be crawling into a hole to escape the dangers of the world and living always in fear of death, or fighting battles and taking risks and living life to the full – that person's time of death was set.
And he posed us a question: were we going to live in fear of death, or would we live life to the full? That's not to say we should take careless risks or make reckless decisions – it is to say we should never look back, and not spend every waking moment worrying about things we cannot control.
Over the last 10 months, my city has been struggling with earthquakes. People have died. People have lost homes. People have lost businesses. People have lost everything. And while this is tragic, the people of my city have two choices: to always fear the chance the ground may shake violently and any moment, or they could choose to carry on and take things as they come.
Personally, I don't want to turn my face away from life and all it had to offer. I want a full life. It's too short, anyway, right? And when something has a low capacity, you try to fill it to the top. Apart from the fact that storytelling is my passion, that is why I am writing a novel as a teenager – because I can't stand the idea of spending my teenage years, or, indeed, all of my years, doing nothing, with no real goal or ambition. I want to wrestle with existence, and get as much as I possibly can out of it.
And this is where writing comes in. As writers, we purposefully design our characters with fears, because we understand that one of the keys to a compelling (and convincing) character is knowing what truly terrifies them.
Of course, one of the most fascinating characters in my fantasy novel, Seya, is no exception: she completely fears the loss of stability in her life. She spent her childhood in the midst of a war in another kingdom, and therefore her childhood was rough and wild – and she is utterly terrified of going back to that former way of living.
However, there comes a point in time when she must make a decision. When the hero of my story, Zeth, finds a magical crystal, Seya realises that the fate of the world rests in his hands – and she knows that Zeth is oblivious to that fact. She realises that she could guide him, help him, and keep the world's potential bane from falling into evil hands. But what's more is this: she knows that that crystal is linked to her past, to the war, and if she helps Zeth, she will inevitably be drawn back into that unstable world.
It's a moral dilemma: face her fears and do the right thing, or continue to hide in her cave and let that opportunity slip by? But she chooses, as choose she must. And soon she discovers that, by facing her fears, she can begin to live life to the full.
So, at the end of the day, it comes down to this. In stories, characters are generally designed to be plagued with a deep fear. This is human, this is real. But somewhere down the line, your character has to realise that living in fear or turning your back on life's opportunities is a waste of existence. That isn't to say that they should discard their fears entirely, but simply that they should not allow their fears to cripple them forever.
And the same applies to us, in real life. Live it up. We only get one shot. Let's not allow our fears to cripple us – and, as Brian Littrell once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”
Carolina Valdez Miller is giving away an ARC of Wildefire by Karsten Knight. The giveaway is international and ends on Thursday, July 7, at midnight EST. To enter, simply visit her site and fill out the entry form.
WILDEFIRE by Karsten Knight
Summary: Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.