Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Why I Believe in the Power of Story

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I believe in the power of story.

Story is where we came from. Story is where we’re going. Story is what connects us and binds us to each other. It is in the story of humanity, amongst love and fear and failure, that we make meaning of our lives.

Story is what defines us and sets us apart. It’s what allows us to connect with each another, to truly know and be known.

Story is powerful.

Story is grossly misunderstood.

A good story has conflict, but ultimately resolves. A story is messy and full of confusion, but there is meaning and completeness to it. A story is about people and places, not ideas and concepts.

Stories are concrete, absolute, and certain. Yet, they are mysterious. Stories have natural momentum to them, fueling our passion to find out more from the teller.

Stories are laden with bait and intrigue, with suspense and tension. Stories are provocative.

The secret to living a better story

If a story is about a character who overcomes conflict to get what she wants, what does my story look like today? On my couch, with my dog, in front of the TV? At Starbucks, with a laptop and iPhone? What does a compelling story look like in my living room? What’s my character’s motivation for watching The Bachelor?

What does the protagonist do when he is wrong or late to a meeting? What is the meaning of seemingly mundane events: indigestion, boredom, or allergies? Are these our allies? Or adversaries? (Or maybe the smaller details are what keep the viewer interested?)

If our lives are like comic books or movies, we may find ourselves in between the frames. This is where real life is lived: stuck somewhere in between a major plot point, in between reels. And it’s what makes us feel unsatisfied. This does not mean there isn’t meaning or consequence to what you’re doing or experiencing; it just means there is no manual for this part. No script.

This is the director cut.

Sure, it happened, but it’s implied, not shown. You don’t actually see it unfolding. It’s like Jason Bourne going to the bathroom or eating Cheerios; it happens, but you don’t see it.

This is how our lives are different from the movies we watch. While we are living stories, there is no fast-forward button through the tough scenes or the mundane ones. It can seem hard and pointless, but in actuality, it’s quite compelling.

We’re only in the rising action. And we can’t see what’s around the corner. And this is our greatest challenge: to make meaning of the moments in between the frames. To believe, in spite of our circumstances, that some great plot is being woven beneath the surface.

I believe in the power of story and that our lives should be tales worth telling.

Do you?

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.

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