Prodigal Magazine: What does it mean to live a good story, and why does it matter? Naturally, I thought of my favorite books and what made them so:
Is it a pageturner?The first way you know a story is good is if you keep turning pages. If at any point, you dog ear a page and close the book and then never return, something is lacking in that story for you, at that time. For whatever reason, it just didn't resonate or engage you.
A good story is one you want to keep reading.
Is it memorable?Was the story so good that I told others about it? Did I want to come back again and savor the particular recipe of words the author stirred and simmered together? Did I want relive the memories of loss, life, laughter, love or lunacy? Did I want to cancel everything to drive to the reunion and spend some more time with the characters and their fears, courage, hopes, pettiness, and quirkiness because they felt like home--or made me appreciate my own home?
A good story is one you recall with affection, even though you know every line. Even though--or maybe because--there are some parts that break your heart.
Is the main character transformed?All good stories follow the form of Joseph Campbell's 'hero's journey', overcoming obstacles to complete the journey, accomplish the quest, obtain the prize (whatever it may be). If the main character isn't transformed between "Once upon a time" and "The End," it's not a good story.
A good story chronicles change and resolution, with a major focus on
the difficulties that were overcome.
Does it make you ask "who wrote this"?I once had a book on my Books to Read list. Then one day I started reading a magazine article. Within a few paragraphs, I was so impressed with the writing that I asked "who wrote this?"and returned to the byline. It was Marilynne Robinson, the author of that book I was planning to read. I went out and got the book that day, and have read it more than once, along with all her novels. I've seen her in person and know quite a bit about her.
A good story incites curiosity about its author. It makes you want to know everything about them, follow them on Twitter, read everything they've written. Yes! you think. That's exactly how I would have expressed that if only I was as brilliant as you.
Living a Good StoryWhether or not the events in a life seem worthy of the big screen, a good life story has the same features I've just mentioned:
- I will be continually living it, with the pages always open and engaged in, even in the scary, slow-moving, and confusing parts. No checking out, no disengaging! I will say of my life: "I couldn't put it down!"
- I will be worth remembering by at least one person, even if that person is me or "the littlest of these." That means I must love and serve at least one other being.
- I will be transformed through my trials. Emphasis appears to be on the trials but the final word is on victory.
- I will reveal my author. My life will demand explanation of the wellspring behind it. What makes me tick? Where do I get my strength? How do I overcome? Who's writing my life?
The amazing thing about life stories, is that if we stay engaged, even the dark scenes will be meaningful in retrospect. The magic of kairos will reframe those unhappy vignettes, like in Shutter Island, where the unexpected twist at the end compels you to go back and experience every scene again with your new knowledge to see how you missed the truth (which makes you ask "who wrote this?").
Why does it matter?I finally feel that I'm living a good story. The reason it matters? Recently, a woman I had just met told me, with tears in her eyes, "Because you shared your story with me, I feel like I could share mine. Do you want to hear it?" And she told me something she had never told anyone, something I don't think she could believe had really happened until it was witnessed and affirmed by another person.
”We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness'." (from Shall We Dance?)
Jesus said, "Be my witnesses," because the meaningfulness of events lies in their being witnessed. Living a good story encourages others to live a good story, and this is how we change the world, by changing one little world at a time.