How to Have a Life Story

Stories are important to me. I think God created us all, in the first place, and gave us the ability to screw up because he is interested in story.

And yet real life, looked at from any degree of emotional distance, seems to make no story at all. (See here) It seems to be one thing leading to another without any real shape or intention. How disappointing.

I think people lie to themselves about it. That's why romantic engagement photos exist - this isn't a just a marriage, it's a love story. It is grand and inevitable - and why folks insist "everything happens for a reason."

A string of events is not a story, even if they are your events. That's not to say that real-life stories don't exist. I'm just saying that just because Stories = Important and One's Life = Important does not mean that One's Life = Grand Story. A life story, an actual narrative, is not something we're guaranteed. In fact, it's probably rare. It's probably why we as humans write fiction in the first place. (Hooray, fiction!)

I think, though, that there are some things that one can do to increase the odds of having a real-life story.

The first building block of story structure is to have a character with a want. The more a character is committed to this want, the more he drives a story. Stories need conflict, and regular people avoid conflict. But if you have a character who is committed to satisfying his want, he won't avoid conflict. Character + Want + Conflict = Story, or at least something well on its way.

So maybe want something in life. One working definition of coolness is to be totally free of wants. No Wants = No Vulnerability. To be cool is to have no skin in the game. I was under the impression for a long time that people would like me if I was cool.

But the thing is that people will watch a character who wants something. People will relate to that character. They'll follow him.

And besides, having a want or a goal might provide you with a narrative arc. Give you that talky voice making sense of things. I think it's worth a try.


  1. Too much math in here ;-)

    Also, I'm not sure I agree with you that peoples' lives generally don't contain story. I agree that people avoid conflict, but I'm wondering if your definition of story is too influenced by our media content-saturated society's definition of story. Story doesn't have to be interesting, in the typically accepted sense of "interesting." We English majors have come to understand that a lot of the most interesting aspects of a story are often the most subtle. Great, subtle shit happens to me all the time in life! I don't tend to think I have a very interesting narrative, but maybe it's still a story.

    You could be right and I'm just antithesizing for the sake of a synthesis. I also just think it would be sort of lame if not everybody's life were a story. Sucks to die without a story. Might also suck to have to pursue interesting things in life in order to have a story.

  2. I agree it sucks to not have a story - but then again, depending on the story, having one might suck, too (see Anna Karenina).

    I'm just saying that a string of events is not necessarily a story. A pile of details is not a story.

    I'm super interested in the Harriet the Spy concept, meaning if one watches and listens and writes everything down, if a story emerges out of all those boring random details.

    Or maybe our role as meaning-makers is to arrange the details into a story, exaggerating when necessary.

    Or maybe - like I'm arguing in the post - we're not as special as we came to believe we were as babies. Other people are not supporting characters to our grand drama. Maybe it's rare to have the satisfaction of a narrative, whatever other satisfactions we might experience in life.