Character Building with Matriarchal Storytelling 

When I was a journalist, I was always reminded by my editors to tell a *story*. Stories need characters and every character in the story has a specific and set role to play.
I learned very early on that there are people who can con the press precisely because they understand the importance of roles, and could play that role to the hilt.

Surprisingly, there are very few roles to cast people in a news story:

The Hero/Winner: The good guy is the person the reader is supposed to root for, even in a news article. A Hero does good things while the subset the Winner can do great things such as create a multi-billion dollar company. Here, their sketchy deeds are downplayed or flat out ignored, their positive traits are emphasized, and even their troubling personality traits are spun to be positive.

The Victim: The nice guy who got hurt or swindled. They will always look sad in the photographs. They also get to wear the halo without question. We don’t ask hard questions about them because people will get mad that the reporter is questioning their virtue when they already went through trauma.

 The Villain: the bad guy who does rotten things to nice and good people. Heroes take them on. Victims get hurt by them. They are cast in a bad light. Their virtues are downplayed, ignored — or explained away somehow: maybe they went bad or it was all a sham. Their list of sins are chronicled in excruciating detail.

The Freak/Oddball: The person who does weird and silly things. Usually they get a pass on their virtues, unless they are the subject of a stupid criminal story, but in either case, they are not taken seriously.

The Expert: The person who knows all about the other four and explains to readers what is ticking in those characters’ heads and in the case of #3, their dangerous impact on the world.

In my book, *Don’t Believe It!: How lies become news*, I take a closer look at these roles and explain how people used them as masks to hide their ugly truths. People pretend to be Heroes, Winners, Victims, and in rare cases, Experts and Freaks. In most cases, there is something to gain by playing the role. Sometimes it is money. Sometimes the person wants to escape an arrest.

As a reporter, I was both a hunter and a gatherer: I had encountered fake heroes and fake victims. I had to confirm their self-designated role and discovered they weren’t who they pretended to be.

But more often, the lines separating those roles were extremely fuzzy: heroes weren’t without flaw, but how accurate must to get in a story that focusses on their good deed? How sympathetic are you to someone who has wronged another?

I thought about the quandaries and when I began writing fiction, it was a topic I explored in depth.

In Patriarchal Storytelling, the roles are clear, defined, and unchanging. A Hero is the hero. The Villain is the villain. A Victim will be the victim if she isn’t the hero’s girlfriend who is the damsel in distress, or perhaps a group of them are just cannon fodder.

We have anti-heroes, of course, but these are heroes who have their own self-serving code of morals. If we have a long-term serialized story, a villain that suddenly gains reader sympathy might move up a notch or two to be an anti-hero, such as DC Comics’ Catwoman.

If a hero gets boring or has fallen out of circulation, we can turn him into a victim to fall at the hands of a villain, or shock readers by turning him into a villain, but the line crossed is clear in any case.

Patriarchal Storytelling does not allow for blurring lines. If the almighty Author thinks you are bad, well, guess what? Them’s the breaks, go out wearing the black hat and rob those widows and orphans. The hero will then own you at the far end of the book or movie, thank you.

When an author attempts to blur those lines, the storyteller risks being accused of making an ill-focussed character with an unstable personality or core.

Not so with Matriarchal Storytelling.

In this style, we are given the gift of the Grains of Focus: we can easily have nuanced characters who can be more than one role at once. Hero to his grateful people, but villain to another nation who are absolutely right to hate him.

I played around with this concept in my novel *Dr. Verity Lake’s Journey of a Thousand Revelations.* There is one character that can be classified as *every* role, yet the personality is distinctive and the core stays true and consistent throughout the book. Far from a character that lacks focus, purpose, and a message, it is a unique character who is vibrant and is very *human*.

Matriarchal Storytelling is all about weaving a quilt or making a mosaic: every grain gathered builds a more complex story as we get to understand a single character from multiple perspectives. For example, a person might think he is a good guy because he dutifully follows rules and protocols, but his lack of emotional and intellectual investment results in the tragic and unnecessary death of an innocent person.

He may read bedtime stories to his kid all he wants, but while his child may think the world of dad, the family of the person he is responsible for killing with his apathetic and mindless adherence to rules will have every right in the world to label him a villain and go after him.

In Matriarchal Storytelling, the author can focus on nuances and multiple perspectives to give a more realistic picture of human interactions. We can focus the story on a different kind of exploration: how a single person can be a hero, victim, oddball, and villain to different people — or change over time. Villain yesterday; victim today, but hero tomorrow. His arrogance tells him that he is a nice guy who is justified in his selfish ways until someone he has harmed explodes and retaliates, causing the once smug character permanent damage and now he is forced to look in the mirror to see the ugly truth. He becomes humbled and now knows what it Is like to be a helpless victim, and he is moved to be a better man.

But he may never be a hero in everyone’s eyes, just as some villains will always get a free pass with those they bribe with simple good deeds or beguile. In Matriarchal Storytelling, these are the precise places we can finally explore deeply. We can answer the maddening questions of why some people seem charmed to be seen as heroes no matter how many lives they ruin and while others are reviled for no good reason.

Those Grain of Focus show us the hidden details of a character’s thoughts and behaviours to open up new roads to explore as authors.