Welcome to Your Story and Congratulations
Have you ever had one of those really meta moments? You’re sitting in your white-washed, psych-ward-esque classroom, or in your gray and insignificant cubicle, and your mind just wanders on to the big questions of the universe: Why am I here? What am I doing with my life? What is the point of all these people cramming in this hideous and empty room all day? Is this really helping us get anywhere? Does anyone else notice any problem?
Or have you ever looked over at your best friend as you literally drove into the sunset and suddenly felt like a classic hero-sidekick duo that was going to save the world? But then you nearly died, because the sun was blinding you, and you didn’t notice the brake lights on the car in front of you. And the moment was gone.
But it happened! They’ve both happened. One time or another you’ve taken a step back to look at your life, and in those moments, you were engaging in literary criticism.
Literary criticism, you ask? How preposterous!
Let me explain.
Your life is a STORY. It had a beginning, and it will have an end. (Spoiler alert!) But right now you’re in the middle, experiencing the small rises and falls on your trek up the plot mountain. However, unlike any old book you can buy at the bookstore, you don’t know the end of your story because it’s still happening now. You can’t just flip to the end of the book to find out how everything worked out before embarking on those hard decisions. You don’t know what’s coming in the next chapter, or even in the next paragraph, because EACH OF YOUR CHOICES ALTER THE PLOT, for better or for worse.
Do you know what this means?
Yup, you’re the HERO. You’re the protagonist (the *ahem* Fearless Protagonist), the hero, the main character, whatever you want to call it, of your story. You’re the one with enough astonishing bravery and determination to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom or to walk into the woods to let Voldermort kill you. (I would say *spoiler alert*, but if you haven’t read these, I just have to ask, WHAT have you been DOING with your life? You deserve some spoiler disappointment.) You’re the one that gets the mad fighting skills, the overflowing courage, and the virtuous soul.
You’re the one that gets to WIN!
I mean, sure you may be a secondary character – a foil, a sidekick, a villain (hopefully not), or a love interest – in someone else’s story, but we’re not talking about their stories. We’re talking about YOURS.
Whenever you take a moment to look at how your life is going so far or to wonder where it will go in the future, you’re analyzing the plot structure of your story. When you look at old pictures of yourself and think back to how little you used to understand about life, you’re analyzing character development. These are the basics of literary criticism, and they are very valuable skills for navigating the story of your life.
So what does this mean for you? Why am I telling you this?
Well, first of all, it means you get a SWORD! That’s probably my favorite part, if I’m being honest. But in all seriousness, your weapon is very important, and it’s your best friend. It could be your intellect, or your kindness, or your artistic skills – whatever strengths you may possess that allow you to protect yourself, defeat your enemies, and venture out into new territories of life. It’s very important that you hone those skills.
But more importantly, your identity as the hero changes EVERYTHING! You don’t have to walk around waiting for someone else to incite the action that could finally make your plot interesting.You don’t have to defer to someone else to fight all of your battles. You get to use all of your experiences to delve into your innermost thoughts and feelings. You get best friends who complement you and make up for your weaknesses in order to help you achieve your goals. You get to have epic adventures and find distant shores.
The question only remains: Do you KNOW you’re the hero? Chances are, you’ve had your suspicions, but you’ve never really put it into words. And I can almost guarantee that you’re not acting like the hero. You’re young and scared and not sure where you’re going. Sure you may have some distant dreams or vague ideas of what you want to do or where you want to go, but you have no idea how to get there. So you sit, and you wait.
But I just have to ask: Wait for WHAT?
YOU are the hero, NOT someone else. What exactly do you expect to happen? Despite what you may imagine, bosses don’t just appear out of the ether and offer you exactly the job you want, and ideal love interests don’t just walk up to your front door and ring the doorbell. Trust me, I’ve dreamed up those scenarios too, often when I have no clue how to get out of my current situation. But be HONEST with yourself, would you enjoy a story where everything went exactly as the protagonist hoped?
What if Elizabeth Bennet had been dancing at the ball, minding her own business, and Mr. Darcy had just walked up to her and said, “I will love you forever. Will you dance with me?” That would be a TERRIBLE STORY. First of all, because the Fitzwilliam Darcy that we know and love would NEVER do that even if he were threatened with death, and second of all, because then the story would be over. What would Pride and Prejudice be if you didn’t have Darcy’s most awkward proposal of all time, which leads to Lizzie’s refusal, which leads to the writing of the explanatory letter, which leads to Lizzie realizing how stupid she’s been, and so on and so forth?
It would be nothing.
It wouldn’t even be a story!
So, the point is that, as the hero, you can’t just sit around and wait for your story to start. It’s already happening, and you’re wasting precious page space. You have to GO somewhere and DO something!
So analyze your life for a bit, and see how well you would enjoy reading your own story. Follow your character arc and decide where you would like it to develop in the future. Consider what your passions are and follow them, even if you have very little idea of where you’re going.
How much information did Frodo have when he left the Shire? NONE. Zilch. Nada. But he set out walking anyway, and that’s the reason we have The Lord of the Rings and not The Book Where Everybody Died and Sauron Won and Who Cares.