One of the best lessons that literature has taught me is that the bad guy thinks he’s the good guy. In more abstract terms, the villain thinks she is the hero of her own story. That is what drives villains, and that is what makes them dangerous.

Sometimes, as in real life, the villain may in fact be the hero of his own story, because the story as we know it isn’t over, and it isn’t about what we thought it was about. Any narrative can have a counter narrative. Every comedy might be someone else’s tragedy.

All of this is true in life as it is in art.

There are real villains in the real world, and we need real heroes to face them. But there are a lot of false villains in our lives that we also face. These false villains may be people we are mad at momentarily, people we are close to who frustrate us, people who shun us, people who are indifferent to us, and so on. These false villains may also be ourselves—the fears and doubts that hold us back, the shames we keep secret from ourselves, and the pasts that we cannot change.

We must be careful not to think of these false villains as the real ones. Not all stories need a hero to resolve them. When we play the hero, we may unknowingly be playing the villain instead.