It is said that even the villain is the hero of his own story. I don’t like to think of myself as a villainous sort of person, but I am sure that at some occasions of my life I have played that role in the fears of plenty of people. That fact happens to bother me. Of course, it is far easier to mistake someone as a villain in a short story than in a long story, where there is a lot more context and character development. If we can consider ourselves to be the protagonists of our own stories as well as characters in the stories of others, sometimes we show up as shadows, sometimes as blocking characters, sometimes as friends or advisers, or as other types of characters, and sometimes our roles shift with time.
Even if we are wise enough to know what sort of characters we are in our own stories, or in the stories of others’ lives, it is a vastly more difficult matter to know what kind of story we are in. Often that story will shift over time, impossible to know until the last pages are written, although at times there will be powerful parallels that last throughout the stories, early hints that become vastly more important later on, small matters that become vastly larger ones because of the path that they weave. We could be in an after-school movie with cliched characters, or in a Lifetime movie with a melodramatic plot, or we could be in some misguided attempt at a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor particularly funny.
Part of the adventure in life is trying to figure out the stories of our existence. In a large part, these stories are shaped both by the times and circumstances we have to deal with along with the choices we make and the people we become through our own responses to what is inside of us and what is outside of us. What we do we restrain, what do we let out? What do we show, what do we hide? We face these choices all the time, with repercussions not only for ourselves, but also for others as well. Our choices affect the lives of others, and what may make us feel heroic in our own stories may make us villains in the stories of others. And who is to say which stories will end up defining our lives.
In life there is a lot more complexity than can be successfully portrayed in a single novel or much less a single movie. It is nearly universally acknowledged that books are better than movies at narrative because of the greater complexity and interiority that they can show. And yet the most dull life contains more light and shadow than a book. To capture the people and the situations that an ordinary life contains is beyond the scope of anything but a very lengthy series of novels, which pale into the shadow when compared at the vivid nature of what we think and feel and do. When we move beyond ourselves individually and look at the way in which we shape the world around us, and the lives around us, and how those lives shape our own stories, then the complexity becomes an even richer tapestry. What kind of stories do we want to make for ourselves, and for those around us?