Recently I got to play D&D. The character creation process was not the standard “roll 3 dice and pray” sort of affair, but more of a meandering storytelling process that was at the same time very satisfying and a little scary (as playing games go) as it’s not always clear what will serve the image I had of my character in my mind and what will hamstring him.
This got me thinking about life, the universe and being an author.
I think one of the things that we have to face is that we don’t get to know when we’re at our peak. We know if we feel good, confident and competent, but we never really know when by the metrics we’ll never be better. We might be able to figure it out once it’s over, reflecting once we’ve lost enough vigor or capability to recognize that we’re not getting it back, but even then some folks have a twilight Renaissance that dwarfs their previous achievements and love of life.
Stories, both non-fiction and fiction, allow us to participate in someone else’s peak moment, however. They’re about the time that someone was the strongest or greatest or best. They might be aware of it, they might not, but we are as a reader or listener. We hear about the battle, read about the success, take in the climax of the story and we’re for a moment right there with the hero of the tale, participating in their apex, which usually arrives around the last fifth of the book.
We get to see others, through story, be awesome in a way we don’t get to recognize in ourselves, save in mostly confident retrospect.
When I’m writing a story or playing a game, one thing I want the character to be able to do is “their thing”. I want to see the marksman pull off the impossible shot. I want the wizard to appear, if for a few moments, an omnipotent master of his world. I want to see the detective be the cleverest man in the room and able to cap off his brilliance with a terse yet memorable one-liner. I want the love story to really seem like it will last until the end of time. I even want the villain to have that moment when it seems they are unassailable and really about to win.
I want this when I’m reading, listening or watching, too. I want to be there when we see the character arrive in all their glory. I think it gives me hope, the sense that my greatest achievements are yet to be done, that I can recapture that feeling that makes me want to pump my fist in the air or just stand there stoically and say, “Damn right”.
I hope that, on balance, we have more of those moments in real life than from the consensual fantasy that is storytelling. And I hope that anyone reading this both understands what I’m talking about and gets to feel it, again or for the first time, very soon.