01 May 2010 07:59 am

Posted by under Book Review,Dave's Thoughts

What’s the Story?

A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - coverA Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (ISBN 978-1-4002-0266-9) 2009
This book surprised me in its simplicity and impact. A short book (254 pages), written in a conversational and approachable style, but very thought provoking. The premise of the book revolves around author Donald Miller’s responses to being approached by two film makers who wish to turn his previously published memoirs into a movie. In the process, it becomes apparent that the real Don Miller is not an engaging enough character to create a good story for the film. This realization prompts the author to reconsider how important it is to live a good story if you want your life to tell a good story.

But then the going gets tough. Good stories have conflicts and explosions and difficulties at every turn, the protagonist is only interesting when struggling against the odds. Who wants to struggle against the odds? As Jack Handey says, “It’s easy to sit there and say you’d like to have more money. And I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.”

Living a good story takes effort, and it takes a trigger to move the story along. This trigger, or “inciting incident” in literary terms, is the footfall on the cornice of snow that starts the avalanche – once begun, there is no recourse, no returning things to the way they were. Authors create inciting incidents to force characters into action, to enter a doorway through which there is no return. Only then does the story get interesting and move forward. Real life is similar and, just like the character in a story, no one really wants to change. Inciting incidents are uncomfortable and unsettling, but without them, the story is flat and uninteresting. Everyone loves to be able to tell a good story about their life but few people are excited about the work that it takes to overcome conflict to make the story happen.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a call to live more intentionally, to think about the story you are living and consider how interesting it is to tell that story. Not many will ever have a movie made of their lives, but for the small audience of friends, family and your own self – creating inciting incidents to move our lives and our stories along is essential. This is more than simply “beginning with the end in mind”, for the trigger may open up avenues that could not be predicted; it is “beginning with the story in mind” and then letting the story unfold, developing our character along the way.

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