Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Something Has to Happen

This morning, as I was driving Miss B to school for her first coaching session of the UIL storytelling team, I asked her if she remembered the elements of a good story. (My poor kids; other moms can teach their children how to bake, sew, and do all kinds of crafts—all I can do is teach mine how to incorporate a good throughline in their writing.)

Miss B didn’t miss a beat. We had talked about this before she wrote her PTA Reflections story a few months ago. (Which, incidentally, was the only second grade entry I saw that featured not only a story, but also a title page, dedication, table of contents, and an about the author page. Sniff, sniff. She makes this mama so proud!)

“First, you have to have a character you care about,” Miss B said. “Next, you have to have a setting. Then, something has to happen. And by the end, the character has to learn something and be different because of what happened in the story.”

Granted, this is a very simplistic rendition of what we discussed. (For more on the elements of story, I highly recommend The Hero’s 2 Journeys, by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler.) But she at least remembered the main parts.

I hugged her good-bye and headed back to the car, ready to zip home and get J.J. ready for school. But during the drive home, I kept thinking about this:

Then, something has to happen.

It’s a simple idea, really. No story can be compelling, exciting, or motivating without something happening. You can’t just let your hero sit there and do nothing. (As Vogler said, “You can’t make a movie about going to work. Unless, of course, your hero encounters kidnappers, assassins, and terrorists on the way to the office.”)

In every good story, the hero encounters something—a challenge, a conflict, a quest. Faced with this obstacle, the hero has the opportunity to overcome and learn from it. And if the story is effective, the hero at the beginning is not the same hero at the end. A fundamental transformation has taken place somewhere along the way.

The same thing is true in life, isn’t it? No matter how much we want to avoid challenge or conflict, the truth is that if we’re ever going to become the people God has created us to be, something has to happen.

You can’t just sit there and do nothing.

What “something” will it take for you to stop reading other people’s stories and start living your own? What risk will you take, challenge will you overcome, dream will you fulfill? And most importantly, what’s stopping you?

Or maybe you have all the "something" in your life you can handle right now. You are struggling with (even paralyzed by) pain or shame or heartache or grief. No matter how much you wish you could grab an eraser and blot out that “something” from the pages of your life, your story wouldn’t be complete without it. You see, the Author has woven that “something” into your story, giving you the opportunity to work through it and, in the process, to learn, to grow, and to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Because it's the same in storytelling and in life: in every good story, something has to happen.

And if your life story is effective, you won’t be the same at the end. A fundamental transformation will have happened along the way.

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