We Are All Storytellers

If you are a writer, then you probably think you have a knack for creating stories. Maybe you have been labeled as a creative soul.  This is a characteristic that would generally make you unique if it weren’t for the fact that we all have a knack for creating stories.

Each one of us is a storyteller, but the stories we tell don’t appear in books or magazine articles. They only exist in our heads.

A lot of these stories are about other people.  They describe people in a specific light, and claim to understand the intentions of the other person, what they were thinking when they carried out the action being described.  If someone is speeding and driving recklessly, we don’t think they have an emergency – we think they are an irresponsible driver who doesn’t care that they are endangering others on the road.  If your colleague at work has to be told three times to accomplish a task, you will think that she is lazy before you consider if there is a personal situation that has her distracted.   If another colleague never comes out of his cubicle the whole day, you will brand him a recluse who gets nothing done, when he just might be a very introverted person who doesn’t want to bother anybody.

All day long you are creating characters out of the people with whom you come in contact.

In many of our stories, we like to create villains. The annoying principal at your child’s school is full of herself and needs to retire.  She speaks in a condescending tone — even to the parents — because she thinks that because she has a PhD.  she is better than everyone else.  All she cares about are her connections to schools in Spain so that she can use precious resources to finance her own personal travel.  You are certain that the reason that many teachers have left the school is because they cannot work with her.   

Great story.  The principal is definitely the villain here.  We like to make villains out of people who we do not instantly like – who do not naturally smile all the time or try to be our friend. To anyone we meet who is having a bad day and might be a little grumpy.  Anyone who gets in the way of our goals or our images of how the world should be can qualify as a villain.  And when you think of the villains in your life, you probably imagine the conflict of every interaction with them before it even happens.  Going to see the principal today – better steel myself for battle.

And then you create heroes – the vice-principal, who smiles all the time and hugs the children spontaneously in the hall.  Whenever you ask her a question, she makes time for you, listening intently to your issue and trying to find a solution.  She is Glenda the Good Witch, slaving away trying to do good.  That woman could never have a dark thought if she tried.

But what if your villains aren’t really villains and your heroes aren’t so perfect?  What if your stories are wrong? After all, they are just stories that you made up – in your head.  No one told you that this is the way the world operates.  You didn’t corroborate the story or check your facts. More importantly, you didn’t ask the person who the story is about if the story is true.

And yet, the story becomes true for you – true as if it were undisputable fact.

If you were just creating characters for your next novel, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  In fact, your ability to create stories is a great tool for a writer.  It becomes problematic though when you let it – consciously or more often unconsciously – color the way you interact with your villains.  It’s easy to like Glenda the Good Witch – but sometimes the Wicked Witch of the West is just as worthy of a person deep down if you took the time to get to know her.  

Think about the villains in your life – the ones that wreak havoc on your stress levels – the ones you obsess about and who leave you in a state after every interaction with them.  Then ask yourself, what story have you created around them?  What character have you developed?

The pen is yours.   You can rewrite your stories.

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