As I mentioned recently, I’ve been reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. It’s the story of his journey to make a better story of his life. If that’s confusing, you’ll have to read the book.
Anyway, what struck me were his points about ambition as they relate to your story. He starts with the supposition that, “a story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” In other words, a character has to have ambition to have an interesting story. Miller then stacks up his life in comparison, at one point gazing through the lens of his bank statements:
The stuff I spent money on was, in many ways, the sum of my ambitions. And those ambitions weren’t the stuff of good stories….
The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want.
The problem with most Americans is that we want stuff. Ambition for stuff makes a boring story, or even a stupid story. For instance, Miller admits he bought a Roomba vaccuum cleaner, falling for the marketing industry’s manipulations of the elements of story: your life is miserable, and you’d be happy if you had a Roomba. The American Dream is a bad story! It’s a trap and a sellout.
Building on this premise, Miller quotes a filmmaker named Steve, who explained to him what separates an “epic” from most movies:
A story goes to the next level with two key elements, and both of them have to do with the ambition of the character. First, he said, is the thing a character wants must be very difficult to attain. The more difficult, the better the story. The reason the story is better when the ambition is difficult, Steve said, is because there is more risk, and more risk makes the story question more interesting to an audience….
The second element that makes a story epic, he said, was the ambition had to be sacrificial. The protagonist has to be going through pain, risking his very life, for the sake of somebody else.
So, are you living an epic? What do you want? Is your ambition difficult and sacrificial, or shallow and selfish? That’s the difference between healthy ambition and the kind the Bible warns against. See my previous posts on the subject.
What’s your Roomba? My prayer is that my ambition is for God’s fame and His kingdom. I don’t want to live a stupid story.