Last year, Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling went semi-viral. I recently started taking an improv class where we learned and practiced rule #4 – it outlines a story spine that goes something like this:
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. But one day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. And ever since that day_____.
Pixar didn’t invent this spine, it’s been around for a long time. Kenn Adams receives credit for identifying the spine, but the truth is, this has been guiding good stories for thousands of years.
In fact, this can be applied rather easily to the story of the Gospel:
1. Once upon a time…Mankind was placed together in the Garden of Eden.
2. Every day…they experienced beauty and freedom and a harmony with God
3. But one day…Adam and Eve sinned against God, severing their relationship with Him.
4. Because of that…Pain and sorrow entered the world
5. Because of that…mankind began attempting to solve the broken things in the world. They tried to become like God, greater than God, or creators of God. But nothing worked.
6. Because of that…Mankind grew more distant from God, hurting each other in their quest for satisfaction.
7. Until finally…Jesus was born. He lived a perfect life, and he did what no one else could do. He paid for our sins, and gave us freedom.
8. And ever since that day…We can Live Fully as we await the final return of Jesus, who will finish putting all broken things together.
Why story matters
1) Our need for redemption: There is a reason we love stories that follow this structure – we want people to achieve redemption. We all face trials, many of them because of our own flaws, and we need to see that people can be saved from them. Why? Because we need to know that we ourselves can be saved.
2) Inciting incidents are kairos moments: Stories always include an “inciting incident.” This is the “but one day” section of the story, where normal life gets interrupted. Many times things are going perfectly well for the characters, but the inciting incident changes that. Buzz Lightyear replaces Woody, Carl loses Ellie, or Nemo gets fishnapped. But sometimes, the story can begin with poor conditions – like Mr. Incredible having to work in insurance instead of as a superhero. Either way, the inciting incident produces a challenge and an opportunity, and the way a character responds can dictate the rest of their life. We have these moments in our own life, and I like to call them kairos moments. It is a defining moment in time, when God intervenes and our response can affect our future.
3) It’s fulfilled in Jesus: A few weeks ago we talked about how the best stories are all true because of Jesus. He is the ultimate “until finally” and we need to remember that. Not just for his first coming, but also for his second coming. When we face trials and tribulations (we will), we need to remember that the story is not over until the King returns.
4) It can guide our own story: Life doesn’t need to be boring. Trials do not need to destroy us. Ultimately, every good story involves someone becoming a better person so they can overcome a challenge. When you look at your life like a story, it can enable and encourage you to keep fighting. You don’t need to give up or quit, but recognize that God uses the adversity in our lives to make us more like Him. As our character changes and we trust in Him, we can overcome those challenges and live lives that are worthy of telling.
Your turn: What is your favorite Pixar movie?