by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith
Your protagonist’s biggest problem isn’t the antagonist. It’s you.
As we breathe life into worlds and characters, they can’t help but possess our DNA. It’s unavoidable. What’s created in our own strength will include our weaknesses.
In a mythic sense, where we haven’t gone, our creations will stumble. Your protagonist’s vision will be clouded by your blind spots. If you strive for external validation, so will they. Their faith can’t transcend your experiences with God. Their courage will be diluted by your fears. And that tendency to be easily overwhelmed or controlling? Yep, your protagonist inherited that from you as well.
Sure, we can try to untether them from our issues. As novelists, we make things up all the time. But there’s a difference between making things up and faking it. Within our made-up world, we need to take readers on an authentic journey that mirrors the one we’re going through. The themes of our novels should be themes we are navigating in real life with God. In fact, I believe the most unforgettable stories hold within them the scars, struggles, and discoveries of an author’s own Story.
Otherwise, we’re asking our characters to live more powerful lives than we have. And were expecting our readers to dive into oceans while we remain safely on shore. But it doesn’t work that way. We end up passing our limitations forward like a baton to our waiting protagonists and readers, expecting them to run with a freedom we’ve yet to experience.
No matter how powerful your imagination, you really can’t tell a better story than you’re living. And your characters can’t know deeper faith, love, or adventure than you’ve risked and tasted in your own life. They can’t know God deeper than you do. And their definition of victory can’t exceed the definition you’re living by.
We long for our art to take us to new and uncharted places but the blank page looks back at us and says, “No, you must go there first.”