I should start off by saying that this “meeting” was the end result of admittedly one to many several weeks prior. But regardless of how I arrived at this little sit down, the contents of that interaction profoundly changed the way I view my fictional characters. The dream was vivid, far more crystal than I’m accustomed to. I was sitting in a dark, fairly empty pub at the far end of the bar table. I’m not sure exactly what time it was, given the fact that every time I checked my watch the numbers would change (sometimes appearing as squiggly lines and vague shapes, which oddly didn’t register as unusual to me). What I do know is that it was the middle of the night and closing time was very likely approaching.
The bell above the front door chimed as a young man in grungy, tattered clothes stepped through, though his face remained mostly concealed in shadow. For a moment or so, he stood still, eyes wading through the handful of drunks as I threw back another shot of Crown. The moment my shot glass pounded against the bar top, his eyes jumped and met mine. I felt an odd sense of familiarity, though I had no clue why at the time. The dark haired gentlemen approached me calmly, though his overall demeanor felt imposing and to a lesser extent, broken. He pulled back the empty stool beside me and plopped down as I saw his face for the first time. “So here you are,” he said with an even, nonchalant tone. “Uh, I guess so,” I answered with an unknowing slur. His hard glare bore through me as though I were made of butter and his eyes, the scalding knife. Uncomfortable with the situation I stammered through my next questions. “So uh, w-who are you? I don’t think we’ve… have we met?” The man smiled, the left side of his lips stretching back toward his ear as he spoke. “Not formally, no. But you created me, and you’re the reason my life is a living Hell.”
Needless to say I was shocked by his accusation. But as his words sank in, my booze-clouded mind began to clear. I realized then who it was sitting beside me. “Gage?” I asked incredulously, despite an absolute certainty. The man, Gage Williams, nodded and ordered a drink, though I don’t remember the bartender ever appearing. The drink just seemed to pop into existence in the blink of an eye and again I didn’t question the reason. Gage threw back the glass, at least 3 or 4 fingers of alcohol vanishing in one quick jerk that hardly seemed to faze him. “So tell me,” he said, wiping the corner of his mouth. “Why have you taken everything from me?”
The question surprised me at first, as did the realization that I was actually talking to one of my creations, but I considered my answer carefully before proceeding with my personal Stranger Than Fiction moment. It occurred to me then that from Gage’s prospective, I was his creator and the controller of his destiny. In a way, and I say this are delicately and as non-ego driven as I possibly can, I was his god. I was all of my characters’ god. So why did I torment my creations?
Was it because I was amused or entertained by their suffering? No, that wasn’t it. Maybe it was just because I didn’t care about them or what happened in their lives. No, that’s not it either. The fact is: I love and genuinely care about my characters, just as I want others care for them too. And then the answer hit me. “Because I want to watch you grow,” I said. “I want to see you overcome the challenges in your life and be the man I wish I could be when facing adversity.” Gage recoiled as though surprised by my response, and his brow furrowed with uncertainty. “I do care about you Gage,” I continued, ” just as I care for everyone in your world, whether good or bad. And I promise you that every challenge you face will be one you can overcome.”
He looked at me then with a noticeable sadness I wasn’t accustomed to seeing from him. “But why does it have to be so hard,” he asked. “Why do I have to face things that you’d never encounter in your own life?” My stomach twisted with empathy and I patted the weary traveler on the shoulder, looking upon him with such pride and understanding the emotion almost felt as though I were a father looking at the man his son had become (despite the fact that Gage is actually 3 years older than me). “Because it makes you stronger and it inspires not only me, but hopefully everyone else who reads about you. We all grow up imagining ourselves the hero, and as kids, we don’t think a hero would ever feel fear or doubt. But that’s not true. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s experiencing fear and continuing to fight. Regardless of whether or not it’s art or the real world, the hero is just as scared as the others. The difference is, the hero still acts. That’s what makes him the hero…” Gage’s eyes lit up and I saw the sudden understanding as it clicked within him. He understood then that whether it was right or wrong, I was going to live through him and the pages on which he resided. He nodded, rising to his feet as he tossed a handful of crumpled bills onto the table. And with a final knowing look, he turned and walked out the door.
I woke to the bothersome ping of a text message, feeling both thrilled and saddened by the encounter. On one hand I’d seen a side of him that I knew lurked beneath the surface, and I was glad to see deeper. But at the same time, I was strangely pained to see hopelessness he would feel if he were a real person. Don’t get me wrong here, I know the difference between fiction and reality. I’m just glad his fate is in my hands.
What about you? How do you feel about your characters and the strain the go through? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and I’ll tweet the responses.
And to read about Gage Williams and his adventures, be sure to check out Affliction. NOTE: book 1 is currently in revision/rewrite mode so only the first half is currently available. For updates, stay tuned!