We all know good stories are good because they imitate life and allow us to live with a character who is larger than life. Nothing is better than hearing a character say what you wish you could say. Nothing is better than solving a crime with a conniving bastard of a detective. Nothing is better than getting into bed with (you fill in the blank – for me it’s Tatum Jackson from Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley.)
Recently I finished my second book, Journey to Hope. As I was working with my media specialist (Emily), she asked me to write a blog about being an author and having a new release. At the same time, I was talking with a podcaster and considering being on his show to discuss my bi-polar struggles. As both of those swirled and whirled, I realized the process of writing a book is almost identical to my journey of discovery and ongoing life management.
Before I delve into how writing a book parallels life’s journey, I’d like to explain some of the elements of all stories.
A Book (or movie or TV drama) Begins with A Combination of Plot and Story
When an author sits down to write a book, they either have a character whose story they want to tell or a plot they want to unfold. No matter the method, all stories must have characters. The characters can be dogs and cats or cyborgs and robots. No matter the physical body, the character will experience a “human” existence. The reader – the human reader – can only identify with human experiences.
In most stories, there is more than one character on the stage. There is the protagonist – the main character. The antagonist – the person or force acting against the main character. Then there are mentors and allies and enemies.
The protagonist’s story will be told in scenes or chapters.
Characters Bring Emotional Baggage to the Story
Along the way, we pick up messages and beliefs about the world, relationships, and ourselves. Often these messages are false – what I call the character LIE. For example, in Journey To Hope, Kathleen believes she is not worthy of an abundant life of love; Matt believes his worthiness comes from his career.
The Story Forces the Character Lie Into the Spotlight
Most thoughts and actions are influenced by the lie. For example, if Matt believes his worth is based on business, he will choose business over relationship and he will react strongly (i.e., overreact) to career setbacks. Kathleen, believing she is unworthy of love, will reject anyone trying to love her.
The Character Gets to Choose to Accept or Reject the Lie
In positive character arcs, the protagonist confronts the lie and rejects it. In a negative character arc, the lie is confronted and embraced. In flat arcs – well, those are boring.
The plot are all of the external situations the author puts the character in to force him or her to uncover the lie and decide how to respond. These are the scenes we read or watch. Discovering the lie is painful. Rejecting the lie is hard and there will be many, many obstacles. A good story will fill the plot with conflict and ever-increasing stakes.
Speaking of Stakes
Stakes are what keep us turning the page. If a character’s life is at stake, we want to know the outcome. If a relationship is on the cusp, we want to know the outcome. Think of stakes as “death experiences” – physical death, death of security, death of career or relationship or self-esteem.
There will be achievements and failures. Proud moments. Shameful moments. Friends will become enemies. Enemies will become friends.
Something is Learned
Every good story has the character learn something – about the world, about others, about self. By the time we close the book, we expect (and hope) the character has learned the lesson well enough for permanent change.
Of course, this is a very simplified explanation of story but hopefully it’s enough to make my point.
You may never sit down and pen a fictional story. But you live a real one every day. And like an author, you have a lot of power. While an author can make all the decisions, you can’t – you were born when you were born to the parents you were born to – but you CAN MAKE A LOT OF DECISIONS. You can be your own author beginning today.
Decision #1: The Lie
We all want to have a ‘positive’ arc - one where we are honest about our challenges and do the work to overcome and live in authentic abundance. The first step is identifying your lies (and the ghost). This is the most painful. I’ve attached a list of possible lies. Take a minute to look at them – highlight those that “hit” you. You’ll know you’ve discovered your lies when you get a little nauseous. (By the way, you will have more than one – that’s life).
Authors always know the lie. But the ghost is a little more elusive and not totally necessary for the author to know. However, the best stories are those when the author knows everything about the character – even, especially, those traits that are never used in the book.
The Ghost is the origin of the lie. For example, if you believe you will never be as good as your older brother, you can likely remember all the ways that was reinforced. Those reinforcements are the ghost(s).
Decision #2: Fighting the Lie
An author constructs a story where the character is placed in conflict over and over again until the lie is recognized and rejected. Each of these conflicts forces the character to react (internally or externally). An author gets to decide those reactions. SO DO YOU. Just as I am in charge of what my characters think, feel, do, I am in charge of what I think, feel, do.
A character will sometimes react in ways that elicits growth and sometimes react in ways that move the character further away from positive change. SO DO YOU.
When a character reacts “badly”, the author picks him or her up, dusts him off and moves him forward - - hopefully with a lesson on how not to react next time. Or, an author can let the character lie in the mud. SO CAN YOU. You can lie in the “woe is me” mud or get up. And, seriously, it’s okay to lay there for a bit. We all do it. What’s not okay is getting up and not learning something. If you don’t learn, the mud will be deeper and muddier.
The author also gets to decide the unfolding scenes. And while we can’t always decide not to do something, we can make SOME CHOICES. I can’t decide not to pay my bills. I CAN DECIDE how to manage my money so that bill paying is not torture. I can’t stop the gossip in the neighborhood. I CAN DECIDE not to participate. I can’t make myself taller or change the color of my eyes. I CAN DECIDE to be okay with whatever my body is and does.
There is always a force (sometimes more than one) who doesn’t want us to face the lie. For example, if you believe you are worthless, there will be plenty of people agreeing with you and proving it to you. Those are the story antagonists. A character – you – need to identify these antagonists and decide how to deal. You may be stuck with them in your life (i.e., the mother-in-law). If so, DECIDE the healthiest way for you to navigate. Or you may be able to annex the antagonist all together. You don’t have to be friends with the person who always puts you down.
Sometimes you are your own antagonist. That’s the hardest. But again, recognize that about yourself and call yourself out. The more you do stop the internal antagonist, the less power it will have.
Either way, identifying the antagonist is 90% of managing life.
The good news is that your life, like the characters, is also populated with allies. Identify them, thank them, use them, be an ally in return.
Decision #2: Rejecting the Lie
The lie you believe is bone deep. The world will work hard to make you embrace the lie. Just as an author makes the characters life worse, you will have some true struggles (unless you live in a cave). You can maneuver through these obstacles successfully IF YOU KNOW THE LIE. Once you know your lie, you’ll be able to identify when you are operating WITHIN the lie or AGAINST the lie.
Decision #3: Handling Setbacks
A good story requires the character to move one step forward, one step back. SO WILL YOU. You can know your lie, see how the lie controls you, recognize the enemies and still make a decision that sends you deeper into the lie. That’s the human condition. But once again, if you know the lie, you recognize the setback and move to the next scene wiser.
Decision #4: Never Stopping
In a story, the character overcomes the lie and never makes ‘those’ mistakes again. The boy gets the girl and lives happily ever after. The detective gets the bad guy and confidence grows (until the sequel). The sex is good and remains good no matter what! Well, that’s not how it works in the real world. Still, you are IN CONTROL of your reaction. YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR STORY.
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