If you know how history works, you're able to abstract it down to simple iterations of cycles, and say things like this:
The early- to mid-20th century is going to be wracked with a war between all major powers, fought on and off for about thirty years and ending with at least one of the participants booted from its major-power status.This is completely true, and yet completely meaningless. What's the difference between that and the two World Wars? The actions of Great Men.
So You Want To Be A Great Man Edit
Tired of sitting on the sidelines of alternate history? Tired of living your life knowing that you don't matter, because the author didn't even name you when you crossed the page? The author is always looking for more Great Men. Here's what it takes.
- Luck. Kismet, wyrd, good karma, Providence, moxie, whatever. Call it what you will. When you're in the midst of a Great Moment, you need luck, and lots of it.
Luck isn't just important in itself, it's part of a package deal. Lucky people know that they have luck, and act like it. They weigh options, calculate risks and make plans knowing that they have much more luck than an average person. Ideally it's good luck, but you want any kind you can get. Quantity is just as important as quality.
- Colleagues, and lots of them. Behind every Great Man is a long list of B- and C-list notables, some of whom are Great Men in their own rights. The more Great Men you know, the more the author will be obliged to include you in the story, giving you more chances to grab the brass ring and join the ranks of the Great Men yourself.
Ideally, you should have charisma and five years' experience at social engineering. Failing that, become a joiner. Fraternal lodges, religious orders, and secret societies have been where Great Men network for centuries. (The most successful of such have actually orchestrated all of modern history while simultaneously faking their own existence.) Militaries are a good choice too, if you're so inclined.
- Character. The greatest of the Great Men have transcended flesh and become archetypes. Psychologists name complexes after their problems. Historians rewrite history to reinterpret the past in light of their actions. Centuries after their death, they are more recognized by more people than were the cults of saints in their lives. The key to that is character.
Pinning down what constitutes "character" is a difficult task. Some tentative initial notes: have distinctive personality traits that psychologists will name after you, or possibly diagnose you with posthumously. Have principles you will not compromise, no matter what. (They don't need to be good principles; they just need to be yours.) Truly aspire to be a Great Man. (I have discovered a truly marvellous explanation of this, which this margin is unfortunately too small to contain.)
- Timing. You don't just wake up one day and become a Great Man. You have to rise to the position, and that only happens on very special occasions: during a Great Moment. How you handle a Great Moment is a measure of just how Great a Man you really are. So is whether you show up for them. A good sense of timing will let you know when to leave your mark on History, when to take Fortune by force, and other similar actions that add to your resume.
Stuff that you don't need:
- Common sense. Let's imagine, for a moment, that you hear a voice that nobody else can. And it says that actually three saints, and you should engage in life-threatening activities.
A lesser person would do the common-sense thing, which is to seek immediate professional help if voices only you can hear tell you to engage in life-threatening activities. Your response should factor in stuff like you having lots of luck, and associates, and an image to uphold, and whether this is really the right time to seek immediate professional help because voices only you can hear are telling you to engage in life-threatening activities.
This is not to say that common sense is always a bad thing. Common sense can help you make decisions that require less use of your luck, which may suit your Image (people won't notice your luck if you don't use it.) Common sense can also tell you when your well-conceived plans could possibly fail, and who knows? Maybe it's actually a good idea to get professional help about the voices only you can hear urging you to engage in life-threatening activities. But never forget, common sense is for common people. It's a supplement to your good luck, timing, and social networks, not a surrogate for them.
- Common decency. You're applying to be a Great Man, not a good one. Sooner or later, you're going to face a unique moral dilemma that's some setting-specific variant of an old industry standard: "Am I okay making other people's lives harder and worse to get what I want?" Here's a hint: the correct answer is yes. No matter what action you're considering, the first time you stop to wonder that, the answer is yes.
Note that there are many ways to handle this tarnish on your conscience; antiheroism, abusing recreational pharmaceuticals, public rationalizations, religion, recanting your life's work on your deathbed, or simple rank hypocrisy all have precedent. Note also that this is not an exemption from common courtesy (although if you're perceived as saintly you can get away with saying some impressively awful things, and if you're villainous enough nobody expects better of you.)
- Manhood. Great Man is a unisex term.