My dearest Alex (our wonderful fantasy IT person),
You recently left me a note in the cyber-æther wondering how one becomes main character in real life like the “really cool main characters in books and songs and games.”
A really interesting question, I must say, one of the best in a while (one of the only in a while, too, but still interesting).
First off, let me point out an important feature of life: you are the main character of your life. I am the main character in my life. In other people’s stories, we are sometimes just background characters, sometimes important characters, and sometimes just really fabulous cameos. But we are always the main character in our own stories, and mostly we are important characters in a few other people’s as well.
Main character, I fear, has more to do with the plot than anything we can control.
Stories–whether books or movies or songs or games–are very important. By telling them and being told them, we understand what good or “cool” characters might be. By getting to know Roland, or Atticus Finch, or King Théoden, or Link we understand what it means to be courageous just a little better. By watching Odysseus, or Br’er Rabbit, or Hans Solo, or Sherlock, we learn what a clever character looks like. For whimsy, there’s the Doctor, or you can just listen to the stories your uncles & great-uncles tell.
Telling our own stories is also how we try to make sense of all the things that have happened to us, and try to understand them as all having happened to the same character.
No easy way.
You have to write your own character like an author, story-teller, bard, or game designer would.
You have to have a rough idea of who you are, and who you want to be (please don’t become somebody who would have used “whom” in that sentence). This doesn’t mean you have to become a different person than you are, but rather it means becoming the person you are more clearly. Choosing something that really isn’t you is not only inauthentic; in the long run, it is painful. Find the things in yourself that have the potential to be a really cool character, and try to become those.
The disadvantage of being young is that you are so many different characters, but none of them completely. However, these different parts of you, these passions and gifts (as well as demons and weaknesses) all wibbly-wobbly inside you give you some choice as to who you are to become. A word of warning, though: remember that old wives’ tale about not making a face because it might freeze that way? It is true of character; if you act like a sleazy, unpleasant, tiresome, selfish, lazy character enough–even just to try it on–you will become that character.
Please remember, the best stories show, not tell. The story-teller doesn’t tell you that a character is kind; the story-teller lets you glimpse the character doing kind things. This means that character is built by actions. Who you are is a mixture of your feelings and your actions. Courage is not a feeling–fear is a feeling. Courage is an action taken in spite of fear. Love, of course, is both a feeling and an action.
So choose the character you can be–naturally and authentically–and compose and act out your life in a way that creates that really cool main character. As the character develops, it will come more naturally, although it’s possible it will never be easy.
But you will be quite a character.