In fiction, the most plausible and interesting villains do not believe they are the bad guys. In very basic stories for children, the bad guys act in certain ways because they are bad, and that seems like reason enough. However, in real life, how many people act in a way that they consider to be deliberately evil? The Nazis genuinely believed that ‘racial purity’ was a good thing. Most people who act in a way others find objectionable, have a rationale for doing so.
Which raises an interesting question. Both from a writing perspective, and a sense of self awareness, how do we actually know if we are the good guys? When life runs along smoothly and everyone is happy, then everyone can be right, without conflict or reason for doubt. However, when there are radically different perspectives on what constitutes ‘good’ how do we know where we stand? Further, would we actually want to know if, by an objective measure (assuming there is one) we have become the villain of the piece?
I imagine that from his perspective, the Sheriff of Nottingham was a decent bloke trying to do a hard job, hampered by criminals and uncooperative peasants. I think there’s a tendency in British myth and story making to favour the person who has the least power as being the more morally justified. On some very basic level, most of us do not believe that might is really right, and we are suspicious of those who wield power. That’s even more curious when you think about the shape of our culture and legal system which is far less pro self defence than, for example, America. In terms of how we run the country, I could argue that the UK is full of people who believe they are Robin Hood, when in fact they are the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Are the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things that we can establish objectively, or are they to some degree relativistic? What is happily ever after for the fox is a tale of tragedy for the rabbit. While it’s preferable to have situations where everyone benefits, often what is good for one proves harmful for another. How do we judge our own actions in light of this?
I find myself with far fewer points of reference for who I am than feels comfortable right now, and a handful of different ways of making sense of my own history. I tend to understand myself, and others, not through belief about who we are, but through actions. Doing is everything, but I do not currently know how to do anything. How do I step far enough back from myself to be able to see a bigger picture? How can I be certain whether I am Robin Hood, or the Sheriff of Nottingham? Am I even in the right story here?
Most of the time, as we write our own life stories, we cast ourselves as the heroes. Our actions make perfect sense in light of our motives and perceptions. We are doing the right things, for the right reasons. But if our whole world view crashes against a radically different perception, what then? If in someone else’s tale you stalk menacingly through their life, bringing grief and destruction, how do you deal with that other story of who you are? I find myself thinking of Douglas Adams, and the entity Arthur Dent inadvertently kills in all its incarnations. The ‘hero’ is unwittingly transformed into something hideous and malicious in the eyes of the victim, without even knowing what he has done. In other people’s stories, we can play very different roles, without knowing it.
Who am I, in my own story? Victim or aggressor? Hero or villain? Success or failure? In reality, these distinctions are too basic to be meaningful, and most of us are both at some time or another.
It was a rather memorable moment, or should I say – historic? Not that there weren’t any other animals around. There were plenty. All of them named by homo sapiens, my allotted spouse. I wasn’t around during that name-giving process and his first wife, Lilith, had just left, so – just to clear things up – we women had no hand in taking dominion over the living things of the earth.
I made my entrance without preconceived ideas about my fellow creatures and made friends easily, while Adam – that is to say this ‘reasoning’ companion of mine – felt he had to rule them. Being on friendly terms with the other animals gave me access to objective information about the time before I was in Eden. About the two trees and the one rule, and about Lilith and why she left. Lilith’s best friend and ultimate confident was Snake. She was wise and patient, understanding and trustworthy. And I wanted to get to know her, naturally. More than anything else, really.
She was of the most amazing appearance. Her body was of a dark shade of green that seemed translucent, and the golden stripes on her back were like sunbeams on water, images forming and re-forming in ever-changing patterns. Her eyes were as clear as crystals, and just above them there was a golden sign drawn on her skin, powerful and mystical. I saw before me the most beautiful creature I had ever beheld.
Now, you might think you know what happened then but, let me tell you, they got it all wrong. We had a long conversation about life, power and knowledge. Of course we touched upon the subject of making one’s own decisions. From there it was only the tiniest step to eat the fruit.
Leaving Eden was a blessing. My life finally had some meaning – meaning that I myself could attribute to it. Though I never saw Snake again, I knew I would never forget this shining figure’s enchanting voice, and how she uttered the words which led to my freedom. And Adam’s too, by the way. Although he just followed the leader.
Recently I completed a creative writing class and it reminded me of one thing. Everyone has a story to write….most people have more than one story. For instance, I have so many stories bounding around my head that there is barely enough time to get them all out.
But what makes one person a writer while the other person dreams about writing. The answer is simple and yet so hard for so many. It’s the simple act of writing. A writer writes.
The fear of rejection, perfection and judgement (among so many others) are a huge barrier for a lot of people who fall into the “wantabe” writer. The act of actually sitting down and writing is very confronting. There is a great deal of emotion spent in writing, it shows the soul, it shows our personality, our hopes and dreams. Once it is out there in the world, out on paper, there is no bringing it back.
But the adrenaline, the passion and fire so many writers feel when they sit down to write is easily addictive. The flow soon starts and all of a sudden the writer is in the “zone”. Hours have passed with relative ease as the writer has been caught up in their characters, plot, places and themes.
This is how you know you are a writer. You have the burning desire, you have the fear that goes with it. You write. I dont think a writer should be judged on the one and only fact of if they are published or not. To be a published writer is a whole different story. A writer simply has to write. If you decide to share your stories, poems or an entire novel with other people then thats great.
But you dont have to share, there is a feeling of freedom to be able to write whatever you want without having the censure in the back of your mind that says “what if people read that!!” But if people do read what you write, you may be surprised by the effect and the reaction.
When you write you grow as a person, you gain confidence, you can work through emotions, create worlds and people. You can write about your dreams and hopes, things that you could never say out loud to anyone can be written down for all to see in the guise of a character.
Writing is like reading, it is freeing. So if you have a passion to write, if you have stories within you that scream to be let out…..then write. I thought about giving up writing at one stage but a friend reminded me of what a writer truly is…..someone who has stories within them and needs to share them so others can see the magic they never knew was there. Seize your passion and go with the flow. You will be amazed what happens.