Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Quest for Integrity

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”--Joan Didion

I love this quote. While it certainly qualifies as a quote about writing, it speaks to much more. Everyone everywhere needs stories. We spin them in our minds, we daydream our way through monotonous activities, we conjure them up to provide a happy ending when life seems bleak.

We need stories just as we need heroes. Even more, we need to be the Hero of our own Story.

This urge to be a hero drives us forward. Sometimes with positive results. Sometimes not. If our need to be the “good guy”, the good daughter, the good wife, the good friend, means compromising our integrity or living an untruth, we can cripple our progress or even worse, feel increasingly depressed without realizing why.

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. ~Judy Garland

What’s fabulous about stories, whether we're writing or reading (or watching) is how the character’s words and actions are not limited by our own personal inhibitions. In fact, our favorites tales can speak volumes about the qualities we wish to embrace. Characters who reflect those qualities are especially close to our hearts.

Here’s something I noticed… We like integrity. Now, what I mean by that is not Honesty, Honor, or Ethics. Obviously, in our daily existence, those three are pretty darn important. But let’s look at integrity. Integrity means being true to yourself. Being 'whole' instead of a fragmented personality who struggles to please everyone, at the expense of one's self.

In our stories, we want our heroes and our villains to be True To Themselves. If that integrity is compromised, we pull out of the story. Not deliberately, but suddenly something doesn’t click. Whatever the character does has to make sense because we as readers or viewers demand that the character embody integrity.

All men should strive
to learn before they die
what they are running from, and to, and why. ~
James Thurber

The challenge, in both stories and real life, is to weave in the need for evolution and transformation. That, too, is an integral part of life. Another way to understand integrity is to view it as consistency.

A long time back, hubby and I watched a movie that made us want to scream. Not only was it riddled with clichés, there was absolutely no consistency. The “heroine” (and I use that term derisively) was supposed to be a top-notch reporter yet she had the brains of cottage cheese. The “villain”, who apparently was harboring a secret obsession for the heroine, had built a shrine to her behind a closet door, yet left his computer running with a voice-over (her voice, naturally) so when she used the key (Tucked Over the Doorjamb! In New York City!!) to enter his apartment, she easily followed the sound to discover his Secret! *Gasp!*

*tears out hair*

We watched the whole thing, not believing our own stupidity because, let’s face it, the movie was consistently ludicrous from start to finish. D’oh!

What draws us into a story?

The hero’s quest for integrity. Usually our heroine/hero is not being true to her/his self. Because of this, there is an emptiness or a knot that needs to be untangled, although they rarely realize or acknowledge this. Throw in some unexpectedly challenging circumstances or an encounter with a person who pushes those buttons and you have the beginnings of a plot.

Why is this basic structure eternally appealing? Because it reflects life. We all are on a quest to discover our Self. To know ourselves. And we do encounter circumstances and people who challenge us to face the inconsistencies in our life.

No one remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself. ~Thomas Mann

We all want to be the hero of our own story. Within the pages of a book or the scenes of a movie, we learn how other heroines discover their own True Self.

"Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get." --L. Frank Baum

Have stories helped you to discover your own true self?

For me, the quest is about courage and embracing truth over illusion. As a child I devoured the tales L. Frank Baum wrote about the mythical land of Oz. Dorothy not only stood up for what she believed, she challenged others to be true their own selves. I don’t need my heroines to be a “kick-ass heroine” (very popular these days) right from the get-go. However, I do crave an awakening of her spirit. I adore how Bridget Jones went from lusting after Incorrigible Rogue to falling in love with the Flawed But Sincere Suitor. She eventually chooses the guy who likes her “just the way she is.” Awwww!!

Stories help me too because the escape allows me to breathe. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I breathe…

A dear, dear friend sent me an email asking, “Have you hugged your story today?”

Truth is, this life we lead is our story. Have you hugged Your story today?

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas


Lynn said...

Verty good article. Connecting with characters is a readers joy. Interesingly, my word for the year is integrity. When I do not do as I said I would, I fall out of integrity. I enjoy reading stories of those who have fallen but found a way to get back to integrity and stand strong. Gives me hope.

Linda LaRoque said...

So true. What would we do without stories? I can't imagine not being able to escape into someone else's world, worry about their problems instead of my own. Great post!

Chiron said...

Hi Lynn!

It really is a universal theme--straying from our path and somehow finding our way home. "There's No Place Like Home." *nodding*

It's funny... I've absorbed the insights in countless non-fiction books, yet often it's the stories that teach me the most. Dorothy struggled along with her stalwart companions to find her way home, and in the end, when Glinda informs her of the power of her magic shoes, she realizes she had the 'answer' all along. Ah, but had she returned immediately, the Cowardly Lion wouldn't have found his courage, the Tin Woodman wouldn't have found his heart, and so on...

I guess what my rambling thoughts are leading to is that, like you, I find my own sense of integrity shines forth when I feel true to my self--true to my choices. Yet what is always most important for me to remember is that I carry my integrity with me all the time, and with that thought it's easier to release any nagging guilt and jump back on my path with a lighter heart.

Hmmmm... Funny how responding to your comment gave me even more insights into this!! Thanks for the inspiration, my dear!

And thanks so much for your lovely comments about my article. I appreciate it!


Chiron said...

Hi Linda!

I so agree!! Thanks much for dropping by and leaving a comment. Most appreciated!!


Celia Yeary said...

CHIRON--Hi! I love Judy Garland's quote--we should all be so wise. Be true to yourself. Sometimes, isn't it easier to give our heroes integrity than it is to practice it ourselves? I'll bet every author at one time or another wished she could be so-and-so who writes, oh, so much better, just as she'd like to. Thanks--this one made me think about myself more than my characters. Celia

Chiron said...

Hi Celia!

It's funny but in some ways I've learned as much or more through the stories I've devoured than the countless non-fiction books. And yes, it can be easier to give our characters integrity, but I bet we think twice about similar situations when we encounter something in 'real' life. :-D

I remember reading through a critique that someone did for a friend of mine. She repeatedly used the phrase, "too stupid to live" to describe my friend's heroine, which (considering it was first-time crit and she barely knew my friend) struck me as callous and heavy-handed. Ironically, this person was proving she was "too insensitive to live"!!

It's a strange fact that some authors can be demanding of other people's characters, yet not see the irony of their own bad behavior. Hah!

But hopefully, there are even more authors who strive to get to the heart of the character and in so doing, find some heart within themselves. What we all hope to do is touch our readers and bring about a sense of fulfillment, so it only makes sense WE should feel something deep and profound too.

That's my 'story' and I'm sticking to it. *laughs* ;-P

Thanks always for stopping by, my dear!