A couple years ago I released a book called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” about editing my life for a major motion picture. The premise of the book was that the tools storytellers use to create better stories can also be used by the rest of us to live better lives.
On April 13th, the movie will be coming out and I’m feeling grateful, nervous and excited all at once. It’s also reminding me about the importance of actually living a good story rather than just telling one.
I thought I’d summarize some of the concepts from Storyline for those of you who haven’t read the book or been able to attend a conference.
The idea is actually pretty simple. To live a great story, our lives have to reflect the element of a great story. Here they are:
• Every story is built around a character or characters. This part is easy. By God’s design, you are the principal character of your story because you are the only character in any story you can control. You are the storyteller and the principal character all in one. The story may be about something other than you, but you have agency and to deny that is to tell a really boring story. The first of many keys to living a great life is to take full responsibility for our lives.
• The character has to want something. If the main character in the story doesn’t want something or if what they want is muddled, the story lacks direction and purpose. The same is true in life. When we want something we launch into the story question, that is “will the character get what they want.” But that’s not all. What we want needs to be good, self sacrificing and we have to want whatever it is we want more than we want glory or to feed our ego or even validation. When we find that thing we want, our story not only engages the world, it engages us and we become much more interested in life itself.
• Every character must go through conflict. Far from being a bad thing, conflict in story is a necessity. In America we live in a culture that avoids conflict but we do so to our own detriment. Conflict fills a story with meaning and beauty. Not only this, but conflict gives value to that which we are trying to attain. And conflict is the only way a character actually changes. There is no character development without conflict. So when we choose our ambitions, they should be difficult and we should anticipate and even welcome conflict.
• Stories must resolve. In stories there’s a scene called a climax. A climactic scene will resolve all the conflict in the story in a single action. Life doesn’t really work this way, but having a visual scene in your mind that you can head toward is motivating. For instance, if you want to lose 30 pounds, don’t set that as a goal, make the goal finishing a marathon. Finishing a marathon is visual and much more motivating.
I’ve been planning my life this way for the past seven years or so and it’s made all the difference. I’ve certainly had a lot of conflict, but I’ve put my heart into my books, lost a ton of weight and have a strong vision for the future.
* If you’d like to know more about planning your life like a story, consider joining us at a Storyline Conference. This year Storyline will be held in Portland, Nashville and Santa Barbara. You can learn more here.