Over the last year I’ve been taking an improv course. If you don’t know what improv is, then I suggest you watch this excellent example:
Essentially, an improvised performance is one you make up on the spot. There is no script! In order to be successful, I’ve had to learn a lot about effective storytelling. Perhaps the most helpful lesson has been the importance of good characters.
You simply cannot have good stories without good characters. They drive the story forward, their decisions and actions make things happen. They may find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, but the way characters handle those circumstances is what makes a story interesting.
Next time you watch a movie or read a novel or attend a play, pay attention to the characters. You will find that they act according to their nature. We expect Jim to prank Dwight, we expect Sam to help Frodo, we expect Mr. Darcy to pursue Elizabeth. We expect these things because they are true to the character, and yet, those expected actions often find ways to surprise us.
If you did not enjoy a story, I’d bet a primary reason was the lack of good characters. I have experienced this firsthand during improv performances. When I walk onto the stage and jump too quickly into a character that has nothing special or interesting, the scenes drag on and are torturous for myself and the audience. If, however, I spend a little more time developing an interesting character, then the story practically tells itself and is always engaging.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our lives are basically stories, and each one of us is a main character in our respective story. If you want your story to be interesting, then you must recognize the importance of actually being a good character.
At different times, life will send you challenges and conveniences, pain and joy, trials and blessings. In the book, How People Change, the authors describe how us humans often blame external factors for the way we behave. The reality, however, is that we respond to those external situations in a way that is true to our character.
For instance, I often blame the traffic when it causes me to erupt in anger and swearing. But the cause of that irate behavior is actually in my own heart, not on the road.
The key, then, to being a great character and living an excellent story is a changed heart. This cannot be done in our own power, but only through the work of the Gospel and Holy Spirit.
And so, if you truly want to live a story worth remembering, if you want to live fully, then it starts by spending time at the feet of Jesus. Allow God to work in your heart, to change you and make you more like Him. He is the great potter, the author of life, and His hands will ensure that your story is one worth telling.
Your turn: who is your favorite character in a famous story?