What people say in extreme situations reveals a lot about the person he or she is. It’s why (as an author) I pay attention to details like this because I never know when one of the characters in my books may say something humorous or insightful, outrageous or inappropriate, when placed in an extreme situation. For example, when the principal in my novella, “End Of The Innocence” finds himself in a pressure cooker situation where how he feels about those working the IT department is revealed.
It wasn’t like putting in eight hours in the IT department where it was one long stretch of kick back and kvetch until the higher ups started rattling cages about getting things done. If they had to spend their days nuts to butt with the student population that existed in high school hallways, they might cultivate some compassion for what principals and vice-principals had to live through.
Likewise, in “The Clip’n’Dip Praise The Heavens Multi-Faith Congregation” things get pretty heated at Calvary Redemption (formerly known as Praise The Heavens Baptist, and colloquially referred to as the Clip’n’Dip). How heated? So heated that church members start admitting that they’re guilty as sin regardless of what that sin may be in their eyes.
A horrified gasp coming from the far side of the chapel led to one woman falling to her knees and crying, “Oh Lord, forgive me. Forgive me. I didn’t realize how much evil there was in reading the fortunes in those little cookies that come with Chinese take-out.” Her husband, mortified that his wife was making a scene in the middle of the pastor’s sermon, helped her back to her feet and slipped her back into the pew, taking her place on the end as a protective measure against possible outbursts as the service went on.
Do people really say things like that when they’re under pressure?
I had to think about that for a while, and then I decided to find out for myself if such outbursts are fictional flights of fancy or if they’re realistic remarks by real people. Imagine my surprise when I uncovered the following nuggets.
It’s been reported that George Orwell — author of “1984” and “Animal Farm” — died at age 46 with his last words being: “At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” How sad that he should expire three and a half years before he got the face he deserved. It certainly makes a person wonder what face he died with … other than his own, of course.
Perhaps George Orwell’s final words weren’t shocking, but they were jarring and made people wonder about their own mortality and what sort of face they deserved when they reached the half-century mark.
In the book, “Without Alibi” by Jacques Derrida, he writes that Louise-Marie-Thérèse de Saint Maurice, Comtesse de Vercellis cut the cheese while she lay dying, following it up with, “Good. A woman who can fart is not dead.” The good news is that upon her passing, she left a year’s wages to her underservants so she wasn’t all just a lot of hot air.
And when Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman (a respected polymath known in the fields of physics, literature, Mayan hieroglyphics translation, and music) died on February 15, 1988, his final words were: “This dying is boring.”
I found countless other final words from a number of famous people over the centuries. Some were shocking while others were humorous. Some were unintentionally humorous while others were purposely dark. But regardless of the emotions that seemed to be attached to each person’s final words, what struck me is that, when people find themselves in extreme situations, they rarely say what we think they should say or will say.
This only gives a person more reason than ever to believe that fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. It certainly was with Richard Feynman, George Orwell, and the Comtesse de Vercellis. So venture forth, fellow authors, and let your characters say what they will as long as they are true to their nature because nothing says “genuine” quite like the natural unexpected utterances of a character under pressure.