Storyline Conference with Donald Miller

Last weekend I attended Donald Miller’s Storyline conference in San Diego.  It was really, really good.  All of the sessions were inspiring, and appropriately fit together to champion the theme of the weekend, and to springboard me (and the rest of the attendees) forward.  Don spoke for most of the sessions, but other speakers included his friend Bob Goff (who wrote “Love Does” – which is probably the best book I’ve read in the last twelve months), Tom Shadyac (who directed blockbuster films such as “Bruce Almighty,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor,” and eventually had a revelation that pursuing wealth and status fell short in providing true fulfillment, so he radically changed his life), and a number of other cool people who have started various moments and projects that honestly are saving lives both here in America as well as abroad.

As is my nature, I did a lot of thinking and self-reflecting on this trip and while at this conference.

I’m a big fan of Donald Miller and have read all of his books, most multiple times.  I love his free association, stream-of-consciousness way of writing…I love how he thinks about the world and about people and about Jesus…I love how I see myself in him – in the way he appreciates solitude, in the way he feels that something inside of him causes him to believe in God, in the way he is all about how godly guys should rise up and invest in youth (especially boys who didn’t have a quality father or father figure around), in the way he conveys the insecurities and struggles we all face in such palpable, reassuring ways.  Perhaps everyone who reads his books feels like I do.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  He affects me and the way I think and the way I live in numerous positive ways.

There are three elements that are essential in a story: a desire or goal (the protagonist wants something and decides to go after it), a conflict (some obstacle(s) s/he must face), and finally resolution (when the conflict is overcome and the goal is achieved). 

The main thesis of the conference was that we can learn how to live a great story by examining the fundamentals of narrative.  There are three elements that are essential in a story: a desire or goal (the protagonist wants something and decides to go after it), a conflict (some obstacle(s) s/he must face), and finally resolution (when the conflict is overcome and the goal is achieved).  So you have stories, and then you have *great* stories.  Great stories are those where the main character’s goal or ambition is selfless, and where the conflict she or he must overcome is immense.  Fundamentally, our stories cannot and should not be planned around us as individuals – because those stories ring hollow and fall short.  No one is going to care and no one is going to be inspired by the fact that you worked hard enough to own two vacation homes, send the kids to private school, and retire at 50.  That doesn’t change lives and it doesn’t move hearts.  It’s not beautiful. Actually, it’s pretty lame.  Rather, our stories have to be planned around God, with our life as a subplot in His epic.  Then, it can be imbued with meaning and adventure and purpose.

Great stories are those where the main character’s goal or ambition is selfless, and where the conflict she or he must overcome is immense.

If you think about the great stories with which we are familiar, this is how they work.  And this is why we remember them, and why they touch our lives and touch our hearts and seem to resonate with us on an almost transcendent level.  Consider the stories we’ve watched while growing up and even as adults: Cinderella, Braveheart, Harry Potter, The Little Mermaid, Gladiator, Rocky, The Lord of the Rings.  Consider the books we’ve read which told of the lives of those who changed the world.  The elements are all there.

Another cool thing Donald Miller points out is that this Storyline framework can be interlaced with philosopher and psychologist Victor Frankl’s logotherapy (logos = spirit or meaning, therapy = healing), which basically means that healing can occur by finding meaning in life and a redemptive perspective to our suffering.  This seems to work when we get caught up in something on the horizon – a noble project or goal that requires something of us, and that inclines us to dwell on how we are going to do our part to make it happen (instead of dwelling on ourselves and our current situation).  I really like this.  We all need healing, and we all need to be part of a larger transcendent story, one that affects those around us and those out there in this world.

Donald posed a thought-provoking question in order to get us to realize the reality and urgency of this need (so that we don’t have major regrets in the future).  He asked, if a film was made detailing our journey thus far (and what it would look like if nothing changes), and we had a packed audience in the movie theater watching it, hoping to connect with it, hoping to be inspired and moved by it, and the movie ended and the credits started to roll, what feelings would they have?  Would they be like, “booooo!”?  Would they be like, “meh”?  Would they be like, “wow”?

We need to be intentional about living our lives in a beautiful, transformational, meaningful way so that when the credits roll, our story has mattered and is one worth telling.

We need to be intentional about living our lives in a beautiful, transformational, meaningful way so that when the credits roll, our story has mattered and is one worth telling.  And so we need to ask ourselves two questions:

Who am I?

What do I want?

We then have to understand that conflict is going to happen – pain, struggling, suffering, adversity, anguish – this is all inevitable and that we should embrace it when it comes, because it is what makes a great story. Finally, we work to rise above the conflict through our faith, and emerge better because of it.

So, how do we make this practical?  In line with the structure of story, we should 1) create a vision 2) summarize that vision as the subplot in our story 3) anticipate conflict (it is going to happen!) 4) break the story up into actionable steps 5) envision climactic scenes and moments you aspire to attain.

“Great characters make decisions and move. Life is 10% choosing and 90% movement.” ~ Donald Miller

While this is happening, of course,  you are to trust in the slow work of God (and not try to rush Him or force His hand, for He is in no hurry to make us comfortable while compromising our growth and character). And fight through the desire to control, fight through feelings of shame and regret, and fight through the fear of risk and failure.  Finally, Victor Frankl’s writings offer some more insight while we are working on the actionable steps of our story.  He states that we need to 1) have a project we are actively working on 2) share our lives with those we love and 3) find and have meaning in our suffering.

This is a lot to think about for sure.  I’m hoping it gets you considering how you might conceive of and model your life after the elements in a great story – which will hopefully breathe fresh breath into it.  In my next blog, I’ll write about how I am going to apply this to my life.

Image source: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/20U2YotMKAo/maxresdefault.jpg

2 CommentsLeave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *