I was in the library not long ago looking around and I was struck with how many fiction books there were. Thousands. Ten of thousands. All different. All waiting to be read. It made me do some thinking. The resulting thought is this: people love stories. Absolutely love them. But why?
There is a chance to get to go on an adventure, escape your own reality, follow characters who do things you wish you could do. And so much more. It intrigues us. It drives us. It haunts us. This thing called story.
I seldom remember a bunch of unrelated facts. Things aren’t interesting that way. Put it all together in the framework of a story though, then you have my attention. I will remember things this way. Story speaks to us. Calls us. Reminds us. Story is vital.
For instance: “John, how was work today?” “It was fine. Did some spreadsheets. Took some calls. Met a new coworker. Came home.” You get the gist of what John did for the day, but it doesn’t make you jump up and down to ask them the same question tomorrow.
Or this: “John, how was your day?” “It was a good day. Took me forever to get through some spreadsheets I was doing because Mark kept popping his head in my office wanting help on a project he is working on. I am a little swamped right now, but Mark is having some trouble at home and I was glad to help him. We also had a new lady start today. I think we really hit it off. She asked me for my number. We will see where it goes…” The story draws it out. Makes it intersting.
I went to see author Donald Miller speak about story once when he came through Oklahoma City. He was touring for his book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (great read). The book is about living a good story with your life. It is a theme that stuck with me. How do you do this?
The first question we have to ask is this: What is a story? Donald Miller put it this way. A story is a tale about a character who wants something and has to overcome conflict to get it. This is the basics of what a story is. If you think about all of the stories you love, it fits.
Whether it is Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Pretty Woman, Secondhand Lions, or an other variety of stories, every story is focused on a character or set of characters who want something and have to overcome conflict to get it. The character stands at the end of the story different from the journey. They have achieved their goal. Won the girl. Saved the world. Whatever their goal was, it is done. The strange thing too, we change with the good stories.
We get very attached to the characters in the stories don’t we? You follow Mr. Anderson as he makes his discoveries about the Matrix. You see him struggle with the truth. You see him step into the identity of Neo as he begins to realize who he is. You see him overcome the conflict in the story (the agents) to help him towards his ultimate goal of ending the Matrix.
We feel what they feel don’t we? We get to experience all of it as they do. You are happy with them, sad when they hurt, we triumph as they do. Story takes us with them as they experience it all.
The question I have is this: What story are you telling? What is it that you want? What conflict do you have to overcome to achieve that goal? Can you answer those questions?
One thing that amazes me is that we will not stand for a boring story. Many people loved the movie “In the Bedroom”. If you are one of them, I apologize in advance for the next line. I hated it. It was boring. I left the theater about 25 minutes into it. Again, the critics loved it. You may have too, but it wasn’t the kind of story that kept my attention.
That being said, there have been years of my life that I settled for a boring story. I won’t sit for two hours and watch something that bores me, but I let the world pass me by, stuck in a rut. Zig Ziglar says the only difference between a rut and a grave is that the ends are kicked out in the rut.
I don’t want to live like that. Neither do you. The answer is to live a good story with our lives.