Th`k: Why You Should Write a Short Story With Yourself as the Antagonist
It’s been said by many an author, “No one is the villain in their own story.” But the first time I heard this statement was actually in an interview with a former CIA agent regarding hunting down the most wanted international criminals, and it stuck with me. It’s one of those statements that is impactful, powerful, and so common sense. I wondered why it never occurred to me before. Of course, no one is the villain of their own story! People don’t do awful things without a reason to defend them. I’ve known quite a few narcissists in my life and never once have they excused their behavior by declaring, “You’re right, I didn’t have to do that. I’m just an awful person.”
While this revelation does not make cruel or callous acts excusable, it does help in understanding why someone could do something hateful and vicious and still sleep well at night. Even the most notorious villains in history believed what they were doing was just. Osama Bin Laden believed he was a hero–the leader of a holy war. It begs the question, what kind of “hero” can be so brutal to other human beings? It doesn’t change the fact that he truly believed in his actions. You can spend countless hours and multiple PHDs trying to examine and explain Hitler’s actions, but I guarantee you he did not see himself as a tyrant or monster.
But what about us regular folk? Those of us toiling away at the 9-5, living a life beyond normal and mundane? We are not oppressors or dictators (I personally don’t have the time or money for that kind of endeavor). We can, however, be mindless and manipulative without even realizing it. We have the capability of bullying someone into doing what we want and while most of us may not be swindlers and thieves of epic proportions, we can rob someone of their money, security, and even their dignity with very little effort.
This idea was drilled in again recently when I read a separate unrelated article on “why everyone should watch one of their favorite movies and put themselves in the shoes of the antagonist”. It suggested that not only would you experience the movie in a new and interesting light, but it could allow you to see how the worst acts committed come from the most basic human emotions and experiences. We are, scarily enough, one experience away from being the villain of our own story.
Don’t believe me? Try this exercise and see what you discover. Write a short story with you as the antagonist. Yeah, the bad guy. The villain. It doesn’t have to be an autobiography. Make it a Sci-fi or action/adventure genre if you want. Maybe a Rom-Com. There’s no reason why you can’t have a little fun. The one rule is YOU have to be the antagonist. The one the audience dislikes. The one with the selfish intent. The one who plots and schemes. The one who not just puts their own interests first but actively works towards their own interests in a way that can harm those around you.
But why? Why is this necessary?
Writing a short story and making yourself the antagonist can be an incredibly powerful way to explore your own inner character. As you create an externalized version of yourself, you can more accurately explore the depths of your own motivations and beliefs. Moreover, the exercise can help break down any preconceived notions that you have about yourself.
Writing about yourself in this way can give you the chance to examine your values, beliefs, motivations, and relationships objectively. You can gain an understanding of your own complex moral landscape. It can encourage a deep self-reflection that can help lead to better decision-making in the future.
Moreover, in forcing your imaginary self to purposefully behave badly, you may subconsciously find yourself, well, defending that imaginary self. You may find the need to explain those selfish and callous actions. In doing so, you can begin to understand the myriad of reasons someone can behave so maliciously. And even better, recognize how those actions can often be committed subconsciously. Was your back against the wall, so to speak, when you took action? Did you feel you had no other choice? Was it an innate reaction to previous trauma? Was it, in your mind, merely an act of protecting yourself? Perhaps some painful experiences lead to an unconscious effort to never be a victim again.
Self-examination can be an emotionally arduous task. People can be in the midst of an all-out breakdown and still do everything in their power to avoid talking to a therapist. Why? Why is looking deeper at your own actions, your own past experiences, so frightening? In making yourself the antagonist, you may need to address these very questions for your “character”, and in turn help to open you up as to why others can so easily and often unknowingly hurt those around them.
And don’t confine yourself to the generic idea of an evil villain. You certainly can be, and it may be more fun. But there are different types of antagonists, not all are so obvious.
Your character could be both the antagonist AND the protagonist. That’s right. You could be the force holding you back from your own success. There’s nothing that says that your fear and anger can’t sabotage your own happiness as much as they can someone else’s. You could even be what’s considered a conflict creator. This is an antagonist whose actions are not meant to cause harm to others but whose goals simply conflict with those around them.
Regardless of what you choose, this exercise will hopefully give you a better understanding of those individuals you have encountered in your life that did you wrong. But then what? Well, you cannot control others’ behavior. But you may find that addressing a particular offense calmly and compassionately can actually lead to a better and more productive relationship, especially if you are able to put yourself in their position. Conversely, you may find that for your own well-being, continuing to have any kind of relationship with certain people is not possible. While you may be able to explain their actions, that does not mean those actions can be excused. Again, this exercise is for your personal growth, not necessarily theirs.
Ultimately, the goal is to open you up to understanding, and eventually, forgiveness. Do not mistake forgiveness for passivity or complacency in others’ poor actions. Forgiveness truly is more for the victim than the perpetrator. Forgiveness helps to shed the remnants of the misdeeds you suffered from, promoting your own healing.
So go on, give it a try. See what you discover, not only about yourself but about those around you.
*Want some help in forming and shaping your character? Click below for tips and tools on creating a good antagonist.