“Mom, does every story hafta have a bad guy?” For some parents, this might be a straightforward question. (Perhaps: “no, not really, but most of the stories we like best do” would suffice.) In our case, the answer lasted the entire fifteen minute ride home from town.
My daughter had just seen one of the Minions movies. It's amazing we held out this long. If you earned a quarter for every Minion you spotted at the grocery store you could cover a decent part of your bill - their googly eyes stare at you from cookies and Band Aids and even the bananas.
Her voice was thin with worry and I could tell my first grader was feeling betrayed. That kind of product placement told her they were about sweets and treats, not about scary noises and tummy-churning plot twists.
So we talked about the stories she knows that don’t have bad guys. Everything from the Itsy Bitsy Spider to Wind in the Willows to nearly every Magic Tree House book.
We got to talk about individuals versus nature and how misunderstandings can make for a good story. There was a discussion of quests and journeys and how we like it best when the main character learns and grows and does things she never thought possible.
But this got me thinking about the stories that I’ve been telling - and whether I have really been writing stories at all.
I love stories with “bad guys” - it’s part of being human, this desire to see good triumph over evil. Ask many storytelling experts and they’ll say that conflict is THE defining factor. But when it comes to exploring conflict and antagonists every day in my own #365StrongStories project, well…
Most of these stories are drawn from my own life. I'm not a secret agent and I’m not a big fan of interpersonal strife, so what’s left?
The stuff of our imperfectly perfect, magically mundane everyday reality, that’s what.
We live powerful stories all the time, and if we’re lucky, almost none of them include criminals or violence or practical jokes with an edge. We’re thrill seekers who pick up novels and watch TV and movies so we can experience a vicarious jolt in our otherwise peaceful, bad guy-free lives.
But do our stories need a bad guy, dear daughter? No.
We may flock to watch megavillains fill the screen and we'll cheer at their demise. But we can still go home to create our own stories about personal realization and the revelation of another’s true character and know we've done work that's just as strong.