[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
[00:00:11] Today is a little different because I want to get into a psychological aspect of the entire storytelling business. Something you need to know as a storyteller that is simply fundamental to all good storytelling. Namely that good character development is cultivated through empathy.
[00:00:33] Now I have been talking about empathy since the beginning of this podcast because it is my opinion that the number one thing that we are teaching through story is empathy. It is the quality in human beings that we are cultivating through story because that's where we learn to connect with those that are not us.
[00:00:59] When you do a good job drawing good characters, creating good characters for your readers or for your viewers, what you're actually doing is showing them somebody that they can connect to even though that character is not them. And often times even lives and breathes and has their being in another world or universe altogether. They are the "not us".
[00:01:23] And see, as human beings, a psychological tendency of ours is to separate us versus them. It's just naturally what we tend to do. So, storytelling is the bridge. Storytelling is the great connector between us versus them. It's what God gave us to connect.
[00:01:46] By the way, this is why I believe Jesus told parables. I believe that that is why it was his fundamental number one go to teaching tool. A parable. A story. Because when we hear a story we naturally connect to the individuals and we're able to draw these bridges, these connections to those individuals to see ourselves in them and therefore we are not judging them. We are feeling it with them. We are developing empathy.
[00:02:16] That is what we're actually accomplishing in the soul of human beings when we write good stories.
[00:02:24] Now, why is this important? Well, it's important for storytelling in general, but also because I want to talk a little bit about antagonists or villains.
[00:02:34] Now, I separate them. I think there's a difference between an antagonist and a villain.
[00:02:38] An antagonist is somebody that is against your hero and their pursuit. They bring up conflict and that sort of thing, but they're not necessarily evil. They're just the competition.
[00:02:49] Whereas a villain has evil intent, has something going on in their world that is not good, that is not the righteous pursuit. It's more than just competition.
[00:03:04] It is a worldview in conflict. Ideology in conflict, not just people.
[00:03:11] Okay, so what happens a lot of times in story is that we don't have antagonists whose motivations are authentic. Antagonists motivations are more authentic when they're being driven by something that you have experienced yourself, or you can at least understand what they're going through to some degree.
[00:03:34] In other words, their motivations have to be logical. They have to make sense. It has to be persuasive. We can understand. Gosh, I can see why he would think that. Right?
[00:03:46] Thanos. I can see how he would think in his twisted worldview. It makes sense. Yeah. And in fact, it's almost so persuasive of an argument that I could kind of buy into it, except for the fact that so many people have to die randomly, and that's not good.
[00:04:02] So I mean, there's all these ways where it has to be logical. The logic is twisted, but it's not absurd.
[00:04:11] So there's got to be some part of you that gets why they're doing what they're doing or why they think that what they're doing is okay. There, but by the grace of God, go I. It can't be a cookie cutter melodrama caricature. They become more believable when you can understand them.
[00:04:32] If you're familiar with Jordan Peterson, he actually says something to the effect of you shouldn't have to say anything that you don't believe is true.
[00:04:40] So, when we're developing our antagonists or our villains, it should ring true given the logic of their world, right? Given the things that impact their brain and the data that they're processing, it should be true. It should ring true.
[00:04:57] And one of the best things then that you can do as a writer is get in touch with your own sin nature.
[00:05:05] I know this sounds weird,. And by the way, in Christendom, we really have a problem with this because we have been taught to avoid getting in touch with our own sin nature. But I'm not talking about indulging it. I'm not talking about wallowing in it or somehow like, yeah, living it out. I'm talking about being aware of it.
[00:05:25] If we don't know what we're capable of as human beings, as people, as our particular brand of person, because different individuals are capable of different things or touched or impacted by different things. So if we don't know what those things are, we're not going to write very good characters. We must be in touch with our own sin nature.
[00:05:48] Now, this is a really big thing that I'm asking. It's actually bigger than you might imagine because I'm asking writers, especially from the Christian community, to change the way they think about how we ought to operate in this world.
[00:06:07] So recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a father of four children, and we were talking about Stranger Things, actually, because the fourth season of Stranger Things came out, and he said, well, I just think it got too evil, it got too dark, and I'm not going to let my kids watch it.
[00:06:25] And I challenged him on that, and I said, Okay. Yeah. It is dark. It is dark and, and of course it should be age appropriate because we don't want to expose kids to that kind of darkness or that kind of evil prematurely. Or it could be traumatizing. So, yes, okay, good.
[00:06:43] However, there are some things that can be age appropriate that truly present a true view of evil. So, for example, I would argue Stranger Things falls into that line.
[00:06:59] The truth is, in Stranger Things, evil exists. And it isn't questioned. We never wonder if the mind flayer is good. We never endow goodness to the mind flayer. It is evil. It is evil. And we know it's evil because it has a hunger and a thirst to destroy, to seek death, to cause death, to control, to overcome the wills of others. It, it takes away free will, it wants to dominate.
[00:07:33] And so the truth is, Stranger Things has a proper worldview for dealing with evil. Because evil is evil.
[00:07:41] And there may come a day when the kids need that lesson because they may face that in our world. I think they already are. They're going to face it even more as the future unfolds. So they need to know how to react appropriately.
[00:07:59] And if they don't have those examples in story, they may not have the courage to face evil when they face it. And it exists! So it's about preparing and training the kids.
[00:08:12] I know a lot of adult Christians who will avoid watching a rated R movie because it's like they think that they are soiling themselves by exposing themselves to those things.
[00:08:25] Rated R doesn't mean that. It means it's adult content. And when I was a child, I thought as a child, and I reasoned as a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish things behind me. I'm an adult. It means it is mature content that I should be engaging, not hiding from.
[00:08:49] So there's a problem in the way that we're seeing our responsibility in the world.
[00:08:55] We have this tendency to think... because we don't want to be soiled by the world. We don't want to, we want to be in the world but not of the world. But we tend to think then that that means that we hide from all of the bad things. And we only focus on the good.
[00:09:13] I remember my grandmother, who has a very dark background, when she would write letters and she would talk about the past, she very much wanted to sanitize it.
[00:09:24] So she would pretend that the bad didn't happen as if talking about the bad somehow exposed her or made her dirty.
[00:09:32] No! I mean if we don't know those things how can we avoid it? If we don't know those things how can we evaluate it so that we can see what choices led to that and then choose otherwise? If we don't teach people things like the Holocaust, how do we avoid that happening again?
[00:09:52] We can't just pretend that they didn't happen. And it doesn't mean that we're soiling ourselves from the world or somehow contaminating ourselves and making ourselves dirty. No, it means that we're being adult. It means that we're being mature thinkers, that we are fully aware of the potential and the capabilities of human beings to harm others.
[00:10:16] And we need to do that. We need to be in touch with our own sin nature, and we need to be aware of the world around us. The actual world, not the sanitized version that we wish it was or pretend it was.
[00:10:30] There are many people who want to see the world in an idealistic way, and they're looking at it through an idyllic lens.
[00:10:38] Now, I believe that human beings have intrinsic value and worth and dignity. I believe they have a phenomenal capacity for kindness and goodness and grace. Human beings are beautiful, beautiful. But, human beings also have a horrendous capacity for evil.
[00:11:04] We know this simply by looking at the history of mankind. Look at what we do to each other. Look at the types of torture that we can come up with. Look at the ways that we can treat each other, and marginalize, and debase each other, and hurt each other, and you will know we are not all kindness and goodness and light. We have a tremendous capacity for harm.
[00:11:37] Evil is not a make believe concept. Now do I think that we often don't try to take the time to understand the complexities of fellow human beings who hold different values, beliefs, and perspectives than our own? Yes, I believe that, which is why I'm arguing that we need to be in touch with our own sin nature.
[00:11:59] And when we create good characters, that's what we're trying to do. Understand the complexities and not just chalk them up as evil beings, not just dismiss them as evil, silly, absurd, or whatever types of beings that have no reason or have no, no understandable logic for being the way that they are. That's exactly what I'm arguing.
[00:12:21] However, that doesn't mean that evil doesn't exist. It does. It does. And guess what? I am capable of it. And so are you.
[00:12:34] We can't live in a denial of how evil we actually have the capacity to be as human beings. But notice it's about capacity. It doesn't mean that we're as evil as we actually could be. It just means we have the potential to be very evil. Which, guess what? Helps us to have empathy.
[00:12:57] See, when we can see these things represented truly in the characters that we come to love, and we can see that they, too, have a capacity for great harm, but they were able somehow to make a different choice, then we can have empathy for ourselves. We can have empathy for others. We can start to understand those who've harmed us.
[00:13:21] We can actually have a capacity now for forgiving others that we couldn't before because we can see it in a different light.
[00:13:29] If we are honest with ourselves, we can know evil in a much fuller way. Not so that we can embrace it. Not so that we can indulge it. But so that we can understand it, know ourselves, you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. But it starts by being in touch with our own sin nature, by knowing the evil that exists inside of ourselves.
[00:14:01] I want to thank you for joining me today on this podcast. We're talking about some heavy, hard things, but I hope that it has been helpful for you.
[00:14:09] Thank you for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.