I'm usually, the Tuesday blog poster, but Dave's not posting on Monday, so I thought I'd jump in early.
I'm Australian and currently our country is experiencing the worst bush fire season in history. As I write there are over 170 confirmed deaths. At one point one of the fire fronts was over 100 kilometers long . How can you escape that? There are whole towns in country Victoria where almost every house and public building has burnt to the ground. And emergency service people are having to go through these towns looking for bodies. It is a horrible job. Meanwhile, there are still over 30 fires burning across the state.
Why am I talking about the fires on a writing blog?
Because I have been feeling inadequate. I felt the same way when the Tsunami hit. I wanted to help but other than sending money I had no skills. It made me question my life choices. I'm a writer peddling dreams. Why hadn't I studied to be a doctor or a nurse and devoted myself to something practical?
Then today on the news I heard a story about a man who stayed to defend his house. It burned down, so he went down the street helping people out of burning homes, saving 6 lives. He was just an ordinary bloke. He didn't consider himself a hero. But, when faced with a life threatening situation, he acted. His character was distilled by the event and his worth became evident.
Modern life often lacks purpose. It is messy and complicated, and we rarely get closure. In a book we can take the confusion and frustrations of life and we can distill them into events that follow a narrative arc, which the reader can follow. They can see how events act on someone, how the life choices they make shape them and influence those around them.
Sure, we may be writing fantasy and science fiction, not contemporary slice-of-life, but I believe our genre gives us, as writers, the chance to push our characters to their limits. They are forced to make important moral choices. The threats might be nano tech or mind-searing sorcerory but the underlying choice is good or evil, or even a compromise which the character then has to live with.
In a world where there are few chances to prove that an ordinary person can do extraordinary things, a work of fiction can reenforce this message. I think this is the reason fantasy is currently so popular. The average person feels they can't make a difference. In the traditional fantasy story, the main character is often someone small and insignifcant who rises to the occasion.
So, I feel that writers have a very special role in society. We do peddle dreams, but those dreams are important. As the reader empathises with the character, they rediscover that part of themselves that is the quiet, everyday hero.
This bush fire season will become something we measure all other seasons against. There have been terrible, heartbreaking losses but there have also been moments when ordinary people have done extraordinary things.