How do we know if someone is a hero or villain? Heroes and villains employ outsiders to reach goals. Each refuse to back down. Each has elements that are static and dynamic. Both can be impatient and cruel. Both can cut off objectors and see them as enemies?
The answer is child’s play.
The hero gets top billing, of course.
That is the way of Patriarchal storytelling.
But Matriarchal is more complex because heroes don’t always get top billing.
Sometimes they are supporting characters.
Other times, they are seen as villains through the eyes of another protagonist.
That means what makes a hero requires more attention.
We must examine the the context of characters and their personalities. You may get top billing, but you may not be the only hero in town.
This method frees up how a writer can handle characters, and, more important, stop serving as an apologist for an unconventional character, making excuses or justifying a character’s behaviour, twisting facts to make it seem as if the main character is a good guy.
The author presents perspective, and often multiple perspectives in different stories, giving a more textured portrait of a single character.
In my book *Dr. Verity Lake’s Journey of a Thousand Revelations*, one of the main themes is that context is what often influences our interpretation of behaviour.
For example, Eugenia Voight may be a supporting character in this novel, but she headlines her own series called *The Detective*. We know she has a strong moral core and is an excellent judge of character in her own series; however her interaction with another major player is chronicled in one episode of her own series…but also in this novel.
It is the same interaction, but depending on which series you read, the interpretations are completely different. In her own story *The Man with the Broken Stick*, her perspective compels the reader to see her assistant as a villain. His behaviour is atrocious on every level, despite her numerous attempts to help him.
In the novel, the reader gets fare more information on that same villain, and the results become less certain and more disturbing, though Eugenia is not a villain, we see the dynamic dramatically change.
The only difference between the two stories is context.
To add to the complexity, the same villain in Eugenia’s tale is the same villain in the Holly Lake mystery story *The Turning Leaves*, and that story also intersects with the novel. Holly, like Eugenia, has a strong moral compass and is an able detective, yet the novel shows the same episode has two very different interpretations, depending on the context.
Two heroes may come to the same conclusion, but without the critical information from the novel, we don’t see the big picture.
Even the titular character Verity Lake seems very different, depending on whether you read her as a supporting character in her younger sister’s adventures or as the heroine in her own novel. In the Holly Lake stories, she seems intimidating, blunt, and commanding, not to mention having some restless anger simmering.
The reason is the Holly Lake stories happens after her frustrating year teaching as a visiting professor which gave her every reason to feel that way.
While her own book expands on her perspective, we also see a teenaged Verity on the novella *The Mouse, the Cat, the Swan, the Fox, and the Sparrow* and we discover a far more gentler and nurturing young woman who may be a prodigy teen, but is determined to be a mentor to her younger sister Holly.
We also see how unforeseen people plan to exploit her later on — people she does not even know exists.
One of the major themes of the Matriarchal is *how do we really know a person?* Do we have enough facts to make a definitive judgement? What are we missing and how does not knowing influence our perceptions of him?
The Matriarchal is a literary jigsaw puzzle that is made to surprise readers, not with plot twists and turns, but with different contexts of personality. Is he a villain? Is he a victim? Is he a hero?
What motivates him? Why is he thinking that way? Will his plan work, or will he be demonized if the plan backfires? Did we catch him on a good day or is he curt because he was passed over yet again for a promotion he earned with interest?
The Matriarchal emphasizes understanding, tolerance, and a refrain from jumping to easy conclusions. We learn to become detectives of reflection as we get to understand perspectives and how they influence how we see our world.