The Stories We Tell

I am fascinated by the stories we tell, not just those on Hollywood or on TV. Furthermore, each year, I participate in National Novel Writing Month in November (NaNoWriMo). During NaNoWriMo, the site has a forum where other authors share their progress, frustrations, ideas, and ask for help on fixing a scene or making a character more believable. I am curious about what other people are writing about. I have met mystery authors, romance authors, military scifi authors, and everything else in between.

I have to ask this question: What do these stories say about us?

I think that such stories often reveal our character and aspirations, and perhaps more so than we would like to admit. It may reveal goodness and hope, but at the same time, bitterness and violence also flow out.

Start with Homer’s The Iliad and the themes – jealousy about the Greek heroes, adultery and its consequences, honor and justice, and even mercy. However much the ancient world downplayed mercy, the original audience cannot help but feel it when King Priam of Troy bargains with Achilles, a Greek, for Priam’s son Hector’s body for burial. Remember that Achilles had just killed Hector.

However, I think there is more. We are fascinated by these stories because it could be us in the story. Set aside the gods and goddesses and the semi-mythical heroes; if you have been denied what is rightly yours, like when Agamemnon took the war captive Briseis away from Achilles, who wouldn’t throw a fit and demand justice? Or like Odysseus, Phoenix, and Ajax, who must play peacemaker? Who hasn’t been forced to be a peacemaker between two people with big egos?

Or what about the MCU and DC comics and the world of superheroes and anti-heroes? What does this say about us? Each year, tens of thousands of people dress up as a superhero for Halloween – just take your pick. I see it as the desire to become more than what we are. We are fixated on the ability to rise above our limitations: that is a good thing.

With anti-heroes, we are also fixated on the idea of bending or even breaking law to achieve justice. We see the injustices in the world and we want to do something, anything! Unfortunately, in real life, you may not get a free pass. You would hope to get a sympathetic prosecutor who allows you to use the “self defense” or “defense of others” argument, but that does not always work. Somehow, the make-belief of comics seem to lessen the sting, but at the same time create dangerous fantasies.

The ironic thing: I was never a huge fan of comic books and I don’t go to that many movies each year. Moreover, I can’t read other people’s thoughts. However, I do know what is in my head and heart. There are good and noble parts like Captain America and there are vicious parts like any anti-hero.

What these stories tell us is our conflicted natures: that we are both capable of the greatest good – becoming our best selves, being peacemaker, and extending mercy – and of the greatest evil. Worse, left unchecked, those evil fantasies can become reality.

I cannot speak for other authors from writing. What I can do is to point out how the stories we tell point to what is really in our hearts. What I can do is point out that we have to be careful in what we write, what we say, and what stories we tell.

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