Stories are powerful, some of them are so powerful that you might even lose yourself in it. Have you ever watched a movie where you were so drawn into it, where you got so caught up in the protagonist’s quest that all you could think about was defeating the antagonist and saving the day? And when the movie concluded with the protagonist’s victory, your whole body relaxes as you breathe a sigh of relief? That is great storytelling.
In storytelling, the goal is to get the audience to experience a perspective shift, to see the world through a different set of lens, to evoke a set of emotions that resonate with the characters. When we watch a movie, we follow the perspective of the protagonist. We experience the world through her eyes, we see what she’s fighting for, her opinions and beliefs, and the thinking behind her decisions. In other words, we empathize with her.
Stories must have a purpose. The purpose is usually to illustrate two conflicting ideas, perhaps the antagonist wants to wipe out half the world’s population at random as an answer to overpopulation and diminishing resources and the protagonist wants to stop that, thinking there has to be a better way. Or perhaps the antagonist is simply the classic villain type character and the protagonist is fighting against the unjust she sees in the world as a result of the antagonist’s actions.
But the one thing all great stories have in common is this. They make you care about the characters, they make you empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. Some stories even make you care about the antagonist, not just the protagonist, and these stories are generally better. They show you what the antagonist went through to become the person they are today, why they believe what they believe and the reason behind their thinking.
You might not always agree with the antagonist but by letting you understand them, you empathize with them so that when they are defeated, you would actually feel for them. Perhaps if their life circumstances were just a little different, they might not end up that way. Perhaps you might even realize that they are not that different from the protagonist, everyone is simply fighting for the cause they believe in. For a better life, to have a bigger slice of the pie, to satisfy their ideologies and beliefs.
Empathy makes the world go round, it enables us to understand others and why they do what they do. Empathy is what makes us human, it allows us to understand others, connect with them and it keeps us humane. And the best way to create empathy? Through stories and good storytelling.