Monday, April 21, 2014

How to Write a Story, Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I read this book because my son left it lying around the house. What started as a placebo to boredom quickly became an obsession because of sentences like this: we were destined to live through something and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change.
Here are a few of my favorite Donald Miller quotes:
Once I understood the power of story in my personal life, I wanted to create a good one.
A character IS what he DOES.
The second you stand up and point toward a horizon, you realize how much there is to lose.
It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea of what we want.
There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing.
You can’t build an end scene as beautiful as this by sitting on a couch.
A really good story circles back. The narrative begins with a flawed character who passes through conflict until he/she is changed. Near the end, our character faces a conflict similar to one they faced in the beginning of the story which they had failed, but this time, because of what they have learned, they overcome. It’s the stuff of fairytales.
Real life is rarely spelled out as simply. But sometimes it is. More than twenty years I served in a relief society presidency. One morning, our presidency met with the stake relief society presidency and I was shocked to learn that a member of the stake presidency had just come from the high school where her son had been involved in a car accident.
At the time I had four very young children, and I thought something like this—How horrible. She should be with her son. She should not be at this meeting, discussing the needs of the women in our ward, she should be with her son. If it my son had been in an accident, I would be with him. I would be much too upset to sit in this meeting.
Fast forward to about a year ago. I’m serving in a stake relief society presidency. The morning I am supposed to be in a meeting with a ward relief society presidency I get a call from my teenage daughters. On their way to school they were rear-ended. A car hit another car which then plowed into our Suburban. My girls and car were fine, but the middle car had been completely totaled. I answered the insurance questions, made sure my girls had an excuse for tardiness and then, as they went to school, I went to my meeting.
It was while I was sitting in my meeting that I realized I had come full circle. Had my daughters been better mothered if I had gone to the school, whisked them to the doctor, or out to breakfast? No. Because they were fine. They had classes to attend, papers to write and tests to take. Just like I had a meeting to attend. Things to do. Real life is about the things we do. In Don Miller’s words, A character IS what he DOES.
We all have to spend our lives doing something. The most important thing, then, is to do something worth our time.

Understand the power of story in our personal lives and  create a good one.

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