Donald Miller and Story

Whilst on holiday I was leant the newest book by Donald Miller,  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years which focusses on the power of story. Following his first very successful book, Blue Like Jazz (which I have just started reading), Miller was approached by some film makers who wanted to make a movie of his book. The trouble is that Blue Like Jazz is not a novel. It is a collection of thoughts about how he has made sense of Christian spirituality throughout his life. This makes it more difficult to turn it into a narrative that would work on screen.

This notion of story is something he also mentioned in Blue Like Jazz, but it seems he really got into discovering what makes story, story. He went on a week long seminar by story-expert Robert McKee, who has taught the principles of storytelling and writing to many people who have gone on to win Emmy’s and Oscars for their movies and awards for plays and screenplays.

You need a setting, conflict, climax and resolution. So, it had to be translated into a story with a narrative arc – a beginning, middle and end. He also needed to develop a character – a fake Donald –  to be the lead who had a sense of direction – a film about his real life would get stale very quickly! The audience needed to like this person at some level. They needed to be pulling for him to achieve something, to get somewhere, or to change something. And you need to knit the scenes together in a way that helps the viewer progress as the character moves on.

All this made him think about his own life. Where was the narrative arc? What were his goals? (How come he needed to create a fake-Donald to make it interesting?). This thinking led him to get fit, walk the Inca Trail, cycle across america as well as get serious in his own spirituality.

The genius of this book is that he makes us reflect on our own life and the story that we are telling. Is there a progression? Are we growing or just drifting? If people were to watch a movie of our life, what would they say we were living for? Do we have big life goals and smaller day-to-day ones – goals that give us an aspect of conflict and climax and resolution.

In Christian thinking the notion of story has become more important. From Andrew Walker’s excellent Telling the Story to Tom Wright who asks us to step into the great story that God is telling. Faith is not as often spoken of as a series of disconnected doctrines, but one overarching story of Biblical Theology which stretches into the present. At what part of the story does our life fit?

For Christians, can we ask the same questions about our faith? Are we drifting along in a belief that we mentally adhere to, but which doesn’t challenge us any more? Have we reached a stop in our learning about God or in our willingness to seek to follow him? Are we ignoring some hard lifestyle changes that God may be asking for us? In which case, let’s rediscover the challenge by setting small everyday goals as well as large overarching ones.

By the way. The trailer for the movie can be seen on Donald Miller’s blog.


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