Think about most of the movies you’ve seen. What’s the most interesting part? It’s usually the part where someone screws up or faces what appears to be an insurmountable challenge.
That romantic scene where the couple we’ve been rooting for finally shares a kiss? It means so much because of all the craziness they had to go through just to get to that point. That climactic scene where a hero finally finds redemption or vindication? It makes us feel so invigorated because of the painful process we’ve seen them traverse.
We tend to resent the moments when we feel vulnerable, but those are the very moments that make us most interesting. Those are the very moments that make us human. The moments of loneliness, fear, self-doubt, embarrassment, and imperfection are the things that make stories worth telling.
We don’t want to hear stories about someone who woke up in the morning, smiled all day, had zero creative challenges, and then went on to repeat that same experience for 30-40 years without a single incident. You would never read a book, or watch a movie, or listen to a story if it didn’t include at least one unpredictable challenge, or at least one unanticipated turn of events, or at least one moral dilemma.
It’s the rivalry of the Capulets and the Montagues that make Romeo and Juliet’s love so fascinating. It’s the frightening possibility of kryptonite that makes Superman’s adventures so intriguing. Great storytellers have always known this. They understand how incurably bored we all are with the total absence of mystery and uncertainty.
The next time you’re in a theater, look at the people around you when the trailers begin. When they show the first scene with all the actors giggling and dancing, no one really cares. Everyone is just waiting for…you know…something to happen. Then watch what happens when the music changes and the audience realizes that something went awry. The romantic lead forgets the anniversary. The best friend fails to keep an important secret. The promising athlete suffers an injury. The best man lost the wedding ring after getting wasted at the bachelor party. Now everyone is engaged. How will this story unfold? Will creativity and persistence prevail? Will love overcome the obstacles that threaten to tear two lovers apart? Will good win out over evil? Will sins be forgiven? Will justice be served? Will a deeper form of meaning be found? Will the groomsmen find the ring before the ceremony starts? What’s going to happen now that a crazy variable has been introduced?
It’s always the unanswered question that reels us in. It’s always the unresolved conundrum that pulls us to the edge of our seats.
Have you ever considered these things when it comes to your own story?
When you’re having a moment that makes you say “this is the part of my life that stinks,” perhaps life is trying to tell you “this is the part of your story that’s going to make people lean in and pay attention.”
If they were to make a movie about your life, that’s the crazy, screwed up, ridiculous, and irreverently hilarious stuff that they’re going to put in the trailer to make everyone want to go see it.
“Find the vulnerability in your character and own it,” my H.S. drama teacher Mrs White would say. “Don’t try to be cute. Be true to your part. Play it honest.”
If you’re having a moment of vulnerability, I’d like to extend that same advice to you: your vulnerability is where your beauty lies. Your experience of hardship is precisely what makes your story compelling. But you can’t create a compelling story if you stop at your problems and say “this is the end.”
The only way you can demonstrate the superiority of character over circumstance is by choosing to be better than your circumstance. The only way to create a story that’s “awesome as hell” is by choosing to be more awesome than the hell you’re going through.
Instead of resenting your life for not letting you play the cute part, play the part that you have with unprecedented creativity. Transform your problems into plot devices and create a story that will make people come alive.