Live a Good Story
Every great story has an inciting incident. An inciting incident is a door we pass through from which there is no returning. In The Hobbit, everything changes for Bilbo when he allows the first dwarf to enter his home. Everything in his world changes after that. In The Sandlot, the crux of the story changes once the kid takes his dad’s Babe Ruth signed baseball. Then when someone hits the ball over the fence and into the junkyard, the whole gang has to work together to get the ball back from “The Beast.”
In Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he talks about the idea of story, such as a book or a film, and how we can use elements of story to help us live the kinds of stories we love reading or watching. In his book he writes about the importance of “inciting incidents,” and how they propel a character into the meat of a good story.
Well, I feel like I just had one of these “inciting incidents” in my own life. A month ago, I decided to go canyoneering on what turned out to be a fateful day. Four of us got hit by a flashflood as the fury of Zion National Park was unleashed upon us. I captured video of the event that has gotten a decent amount of attention. I have been on a few different news programs to tell the story. A TV show producer in the UK has called and wants to film a few things for a show they are doing on surviving crazy events.
Perhaps my decision to enter that slot canyon was an inciting incident.
Yet I feel like there is an even more clear inciting incident that occurred afterwards. My expensive camera gear was wrecked by the flashflood. What others did not know, is that for the last year I have been working on a film project. I’ve spent a lot of time in Zion filming canyoneering and time lapse sequences. I had always planned to put something together on it, but my specific plans were unclear and undefined. I had no set goal.
After the flashflood I learned that the damages to my camera were irreparable. And replacing all my camera gear is not financially possible for me. So what should I do? Just hang up the towel?
That’s when I was forced to think more creatively about what I was really trying to do. A friend of mine recommended I do a Kickstarter project. I wasn’t really sure what Kickstarter was, but after I looked into it, I realized it was perfect for what I was doing. Except that I needed a very specific goal, a message that I could convey to others detailing exactly what I needed and what specifically was my plan.
So I honed my plan. I thought about what I wanted to do, challenging myself to create something bigger than a 3 minute Youtube video.
Launching this Kickstarter project is an inciting incident. I have made it public what I intend to do. I can’t go back on it now. I need to follow through. I feel an incredible amount of excitement about it. I’ve had a lot of internal motivation for this idea for the last year. Now I have an additional external motivation. People know about my project. People have made financial pledges to the project. Now I need to deliver something stellar.
The whole thing has been a rush. The added pressure of others knowing about my project is making me dig deeper, be more creative, and work harder. And I think that is a good thing for me.
This makes me think of how we can use inciting incidents in our own life to propel us further along. Donald Miller’s book is all about living a good story. How we can take the knowledge of what makes a good story and apply that to what makes a good life. In any story we love, we see a character who wants something and must overcome obstacles in order to get it.
The tougher the obstacles, the higher the stakes, the better the story.
So here is our opportunity. We can help ourselves to live a better story by choosing something specific to go after. Something with risks, where failure is a possibility. And we can use inciting incidents in order to push ourselves through that doorway we can’t return through.
We must then become aware that there will be obstacles. And when those obstacles come, we can view them differently. When we view life this way, obstacles are no longer the worst thing in the world. They are opportunities to make our stories better. And to make accomplishing our goal that much more rewarding.
Think on the movie The Blind Side. It is already hard as hell to make it to the NFL. Yet watching a movie about every person that gets drafted isn’t going to fly. But when you tell a story about a guy who was homeless that makes it to the NFL, you’ve got a story that has people cry at the end and wins awards.
So if you are feeling discontent with your life’s story, like you aren’t going anywhere, try using the elements of story to help you live a better one.
Because as Miller says, “as soon as you point toward a horizon, life no longer feels meaningless. And suddenly there’s risk in your story and a question about whether you’ll make it.”