No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it. –Paulo Coelho
We are all essentially the heroes of our own stories. No matter what role we play in our lives, in the lives of others, we are doing what we feel is right for us and those around us. And that earns us a place in the history of that moment in time.
That’s not to say we won’t be forgotten or our story misplaced, but at least for a generation we’ll have mattered.
That’s why I can never understand why writers create cardboard cutout villains. After all, a villain is still the hero in their own story. It may not be the focus of the writer, but maybe in an alternate universe, a writer is furiously pounding out a story about a brave and daring explorer who is unwilling to let anything and anyone stand in his way to seeing a new animal, capturing that animal and bringing it back to astound the scientific community, where it can be studied and help all mankind learn more about life on earth.
You may recognize the villain (or alternate hero) from that description. It’s one of my favorite three dimensional, well rounded villains from the movies–Charles Muntz, the explorer turned fanatic in the movie UP.
His mission is both altruistic (help mankind by discovering new places and animals) and selfish (to gain fame and funding for more expeditions)–which pretty much describes most of us. We want to help others, but we also want things for ourselves.
The character of Carl Fredericksen is the hero of UP, but could easily be a villain in an alternate universe. After all, he’s a man who assaults a construction worker, lies to children (remember Russell the scout and the snipe hunt?), and becomes a fugitive running from the people trying to carry out the instructions of a court of law.
And I think that gets at the heart of characters in stories. They have many sides. They can be perceived as both heroes and villains.
Just as we are perceived differently depending on who we interact with and how we treat them.
I want to write good heroes and great villains. But I also want to be the hero in my story. I want history to remember me as a hero in this universe and in this cosmic story.
What about you? How do you want to be remembered?