Monday, March 18, 2013

Viewing Life as One Big Story

Not too long ago, I read a book titled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller. Some may recognise the author by one of his other books, Blue Like Jazz, his memoirs which became a best-seller and was adapted into a movie. This book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, actually tells the story of how Don's view of life was changed as he worked with Steve and Ben to adapt his memoirs into a movie.
I am fully aware that the concept may sound a bit spectacular and unbelievable the way I put it, but it's true. As Don learns about the elements of a good story from Steve and Ben as they work on converting his memoirs into a movie, Don learns a lot and does a lot of reflecting, hence resulting in the creation of this book. The core of the message in the book is how Don learns to look at life as a story.
Some stories are good, while others are not so good. Sometimes you watch a movie or read a story book, and at the end of it you come away thinking "What was that all about?" and you forget all about the story by breakfast the next morning. On the other hand, some movies keep your eyes wide open throughout the whole two hours of it, or some books are so gripping that you lose track of time and accidentally pull off an all-nighter because you simply couldn't put the book down and go to sleep without seeing the end of the story. At last, when it's all over, you come away from the theatre/book thinking "That was amazing."
Don compares the elements of a good story to the elements of a good life. He writes of how to live a full and complete life, challenging yourself and taking on tasks that seem to great to accomplish. Basically, he write on how to live your life so that when it's over, people around you don't start looking at each other blankly and ask "What was that all about?"
So what makes a good story? "A good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." Quoted from the book. It's quite as simple as that. Think of all the great epics and fantasy movies you've seen in your time. Sure, there are subplots and twists and clichés that make one story vary from another, but when you dig right down to the roots, you find that this is the driving force behind all good stories. A character. Who wants something. And overcomes conflict. To get it.
Every main character in every story has a goal, whether or not they realise it. Sometimes they only become consciously aware of what they are trying to achieve halfway through the story. And the story often revolves around the pain, and suffering that the character goes through, to be finally crowned with the triumphant victory of achieving his goal in the last chapter of the book. The story is set in motion by the existence of a goal which the character must achieve. This is closely tied together with real life. If you don't have a goal in your life, your story stagnates. You end up not doing anything. No one wants to watch a movie of a man who doesn't do anything. At the same time, you may set a goal in your life, for instance, losing weight (we can start small, no problem). You may never get down to doing it, in which case it wouldn't make a much better story than if you didn't even have a goal in the first place. To get the good story going in your life, you set a goal for yourself and force yourself to get started on it. Once the ball gets rolling, you keep rolling it until you cross the finish line, and then you have a story.
And that's just the first part of the book. In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don focuses more on the relation between life and movies rather than literature. So what makes the difference between a good movie and a great movie? Here we delve into the depth of "memorable scenes", "goals with high stakes" and "pain and suffering" etc. etc. etc. I won't attempt to summarise the whole book in one blog post. The best thing to do would be to read the book yourself, because Don Miller himself can explain everything better than I ever could. To use a suitable cliché to end my talk of stories, once you read that book, you will never look at life the same way again.

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