A couple of days ago I was in the middle of our weekly game (Deadlands, at the moment) and we came across a big bad that was scary enough to, literally, put the fear of god in our characters. Fail the saving throw and your hair could go white, your mind could shatter or your heart could stop ticking on the spot.
But even better than all of that was the chance for the thing to change you. At the whim of the rules, the flip of a coin or the toss of a handful of dice your character could suddenly become something else, something new and different to the careful plan you may have set out for them.
Those moments are the very reason I ditch my family on Monday nights and trade 4 hours of my life for 4 hours of a character's life that wouldn't exist if I didn't.
Those moments are also the reason I write. The people in my head are as real to me as most of the ones the world slides across my vision. Actually, aside from the ones that choose to live with me (or are forced to, because they are not yet old enough to wipe their own asses, let alone throw their crap into a duffel bag and live on their own), the people I make up are MORE real.
After all, I know them with much more intimacy then the woman who watched me swipe my card at Kmart or the guy on the bike who lashed out with his foot at the car in front of me this morning for swerving too near to him. I gave my characters life by giving them the space to grow, and they reward me by using that room to interact with the rest of the world in my head.
I watch as they find lovers and reasons to hate. I marvel at their ideas and schemes and get, admittedly, more than little frustrated when they won't stay in their box and just carry the damn spear instead of wandering on to center stage.
They live through me and, sometimes, I live for them.
But I charge them a hefty price for the privilege. I hurt them in a million ways, loading pain into their backstories, giving them needs they can't satiate, desires they don't understand and can rarely forget. I bang them against the world until they crack, and once they do the real story is only just beginning, for them and for me.
And through it all, there is one sentence running through my mind. I want them to marinate in the words.
If you are willing to be broken, you are worthy of being saved.
That's the wavy, faded, often hopscotched-across line in the sand. It's how I know whose side you're on, in the end. Are you with me, or against me? Are you willing to be vulnerable enough for the reader to see who you are, or are you too afraid for your secrets to be uncovered?
The fearful ones lash out, and the cracked characters are the ones I adore.