The Wretched Stories

During my conversation with Elizabeth Lyon yesterday on Author2Author, we discussed how the protagonist is often the hardest character to find in all his or her fullness. And by fullness, of course, we mean flaws – narrow mindedness, fears, biases, shames, and tempers. Without the contrast of these limitations, the character’s strengths lose their meaning and memorableness. This is perhaps a product of the protagonist being an avatar for the author. Here we are as we see ourselves. We are not strident and overbearing; we are passionate and confident. We are not moody and self-indulgent; we are emotional and introspective. And maybe we are right and maybe we are wrong. We can hardly be blamed for wanting to identify with our strengths and not our weaknesses.

Yet what are our “weaknesses” really but us believing something that isn’t true? What is the greedy man but a man who believes he must have the whole pie to himself to be safe? And what is the vain woman but a woman who believes that she has no value until approved of by others? Believing a story is far different than being a story. As a being, you can believe absolutely any story you want, and the living you do in that story teaches you its value.

And every story we tell is always about people learning to tell different stories. So go ahead and tell us the wretched stories you’ve believed. Tell us those ugly stories of your meanness and fear and vanity and avarice. The story was never you. It was a spell you cast on yourself, hypnotizing you with some false promise of peace that would come once you’d acquired enough or suffered enough or taken enough or been applauded enough. But it wasn’t you. You were the one who remembered yourself, the one who began when that tale finally expired.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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