On the line between Good & Evil

Fiction authors have a daunting task when telling a believable story. They want their readers to feel connected to their world as if they are observers inside the novel. Actions must adhere to a consistent set of rules either bound by the laws of physics or stretched beyond science in ways obedient to the world the writer created. Motivations need explainable reasons complimenting the plot points and characters’ personalities.

Then there are the characters. Protagonists can’t be too good and antagonists can’t be too evil. A talented scribe finds the delicate balance between these opposed forces of right and wrong which tug at the characters and influences their lives in a way the same forces affect us in the real world. When done correctly, these mixed characters become some of our favorite figures in books and movies: the flawed hero and the sympathetic villain. We love them because we can relate.

We fail to understand the hero who is pure goodness because we do not know any people that saintly in real life. We are unimpressed by pure evil villains because we have never seen someone that wicked in our personal interactions.

The best stories have heroes who make mistakes. They have fatal flaws. Their history is littered with choices they regret. They do not save the day because of their inherent goodness, they do so reluctantly. They become heroes because they made a decision to be better than their past selves.

The best stories have villains whose treachery is born from the nature of their environment, not the depths of their soul. We recognize their behavior is wrong but we empathize with them because we know we might do something similar if thrust into the same predicament. We understand our own potential for selfishness and deceit and how easy it would be to commit to misconduct under less fortunate circumstances.

We know flawed heroes and sympathetic villains in real life. We are friends with people who have inflicted great harm with good intentions. We commend people who demonstrate heroics by being in the right place at the right time. We work with people who do their best to live righteously yet fail, disappointing the people they love the most. And we have family members who followed a destructive path only to find redemption and use their pain to help others going through similar struggles. If heroes and villains exist in real life, they are our parents and siblings, our kids and partners, our colleagues and neighbors.

If we search our hearts, we can find the same qualities inside ourselves. We see our good deeds along with the bad. We are both the hero and the villain in our own stories, sympathetic to our past and flawed in our future. This fragile existence between holy and profane is what makes us human. It gives us great stories to tell at parties and pass along to our grandchildren. It allows us to relate to others and find healing in the two most powerful words in the English language: me too.

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