What Makes a Good Story?

I recently listened to a chapel message from Donald Miller that he presented at our company a few months back. His talk was based on his most recent book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which I finished reading this past summer. It’s been an important book in my journey, so I relished the chance to hear Miller talk directly about it. A few things struck me from his message that day, both times I’ve heard it.

First of all, our lives are very much like the writing of a story, and a good story is usually a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Imagine reading a story about someone who doesn’t know what they want in life. Would you keep reading once you realized that about the main character?

I hate to admit this, but I am inclined to simply float through life without asking myself what I truly want. Stopping on a weekly basis to ask myself that question is an important exercise. Perhaps this is another reason that God commanded us to “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.”

Knowing what you want is good, but it isn’t the only thing. Someone whose wants are only self-serving have a difficult time finding any real meaning in their lives. Without self-sacrifice for something or someone outside ourselves we don’t awaken something great in others, because we ourselves are not alive and awake to any great purpose.

Miller’s message pushed me to acknowledge the ways that I have been careless with my desires in the past. I want to be able to stop at any given moment and answer this question: Is what I’m doing right now connected to what I truly want in life?

I think it’s an important question, even in moments of leisure. There is nothing wrong with taking time for leisure, but have I made it an intentional part of my life because I know that play has value, just as work does? It’s a question about being intentional.

There is something that inspires us about a character who lives with intention, who wants something meaningful and presses forward into the conflict or suffering required to get it.

Would the story of our lives inspire others to do what we doing? A life story worth reading is a story worth living.

2 responses to “What Makes a Good Story?

  1. Excellent post Jason; you bring up some very good points. I especially like your point about asking ourselves, several times a day, whether what we’re currently doing is connected to something we truly want in life.

    I must mention however, trivial as it may be, that your rhetorical question about whether one would continue reading a book upon discovering the main character didn’t know what he wanted in life immediately brought to mind one of my (still) favorite books, CATCHER IN THE RYE. Holden Caufield was enormously appealing BECAUSE, like me at the time, he was
    so confused about what he wanted out of life. For what it’s worth.
    Keep up the good work; whatever you create is always a worthwhile read.

  2. Man, I need to read that book. For years it’s been on my list of must-reads!

    Good point… makes me wonder, perhaps what he wanted was to know what he wanted? Can’t say, since I haven’t read it though.

    Maybe I should have said that a character would not be interesting if they didn’t WANT ANYTHING. That might be more along the lines of what I’m thinking.

    We need to get lunch on the books… I’ll email ya.

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