Writing a Better Story: My Inciting Incident.

This morning, like most mornings, I was wakened by the Jersey Shore’s finest, Pauly D, yelling “AW, YEAH, WAKE UP, YEAH!” from my phone. Sadly, he hadn’t called me from the East Coast, I just so happen to have the most obnoxious alarm clock ringtone out there. I usually wake up quite well to my alarm as it’s pretty funny (sorry if my love of Jersey Shore offends any of you), but this morning I decided to hit snooze, and when Pauly D started yelling again I whispered “oh, f*** off!” before smashing my thumb against some buttons to get him to pipe down.

I was nervous when I awoke this morning, and when I’m nervous I can be quite grumpy.

Eventually I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed some towels and headed to the bathroom.

This morning was no normal Sunday morning, and these were no normal nerves; these were New Church Nerves. It’s been six weeks since I came home and I decided that, if I didn’t want to go crazy (or at least any crazier than I already was), this was the week I needed to start going to Church.

At the start of week two of coming home I went to a Church (you can read about how that went here) and it just wasn’t the right time. I was in denial about a lot of things then: I believed I was going to go back to Scotland as soon as I could because I was certain I’d find a job ASAP, I was also then still preparing to go out to California, and I was pretty horrendously comfortable.

But slowly but surely, as you’ve seen in my blogs over the past month, things haven’t been so peachy.

I’m currently reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. If you haven’t read it yet I suggest you get your hands on a copy (and maybe read Blue Like Jazz first). The book is all about the creation of his film and story is the main theme. This morning, after Church, I was reading the chapter entitled ‘How to make yourself write a better story’. I have a quite a lot of quoting and discussing to do so if that’s not your thing then feel free to bow out now, but for the rest of you, keep reading (I should point out now that anything in italics below is from A Million Miles… and most definitely the work of Donald Miller).

Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it. It’s like that with writing books, and it’s like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.

Since the day I found out California was a bust I’ve wanted a better story; mostly I wanted a Church and a community that I could call my family and my home. The problem was that I got scared, and when I get scared my old friend Avoidance creeps up on me and convinces me that, when I’m sat at home on a Sunday morning, on the sofa in my pyjamas eating granola and fruit with yoghurt, that this is where I want to be, that I don’t mind not having a community. Or that when I go to Church with my parents, a Church I never really felt like I fitted into, that I never feel like I can be myself in, that I was okay with it because it seemed like a nice place to be.

A general rule in creating stories is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change. Nobody wakes up and starts chasing a bad guy or dismantling a bomb unless something forces them to do so. The bad guys just robbed your house and are running off with your last roll of toilet paper, or the bomb is strapped to your favourite cat. It’s that sort of thing that gets the character moving. The rule exists in story because it’s a true thing about people. Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better.

I spent a month telling myself I was fine sitting on my bum, watching TV and scrolling through job search websites, sporadically making plans with any of my friends who were available and praying about how pants I felt about it all (I realise this sentence completely contradicts itself but that’s kind of the point). I had an order; I would get up, go for a run, eat breakfast, shower, watch TV, look for jobs, maybe write a blog, watch some YouTube videos, eat lunch, watch some more TV, maybe see a friend, look for some more jobs, maybe read, eat dinner, maybe go cycling, almost throw up because I’d pushed myself too hard while cycling (accidentally), watch some more TV, maybe Skype a friend, and then go to bed. Never mind the fact that there’s an insane amount of TV involved in this lifestyle, I’d never been more comfortable. But, more than anything, I wanted out of it. I’ve never been so broken down, so weak, so in need of, well, a real life.

I have too much to offer not to share my life with people and too many people have too much to offer me for me not to go out and meet them.

Robert McKee says humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won’t enter into a story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased. A home has to be sold. The character has to jump into the story, in the discomfort and fear, otherwise the story will never happen.

For a while this morning I thought that Church was my inciting incident, but I think now that it was California. California falling through was the start of my story; it made me realise that I had to do something while I was here, that life wasn’t as easy as I thought it was. Once I realised I wasn’t going it hit me that I needed to take the next step, I couldn’t turn back. Everything got very uncomfortable  and if I wanted to change things I had to start moving, I had to make some decisions, I had to jump into my story.

James Scott Bell says an inciting incident is a doorway through which the protagonist cannot return. I didn’t know I was doing it at the time, but I had certainly walked through a doorway. I was an overweight, out-of-shape guy who wanted to get into shape and date a specific girl. I’d walked through a doorway that would force me both to get into shape and to interact with her. I suppose I didn’t have to get into shape, but if I didn’t, the story would be a tragedy. And nobody wants to live a tragedy. I’d found my motivation. I joined the gym the next day.

To make this more relevant, lets change being overweight and out-of-shape into being out of community, and getting into shape etc. with wanting to be in community. I didn’t have to go to Church this morning, but if I didn’t I would’ve once again found myself either on the sofa eating granola and watching TV, or at my parent’s Church; effectively, this would be my tragedy.

This morning, while I lay in bed waiting for Pauly D to yell at me again, Jesus sat in the chair by my desk. He told me, “Look, we both know you need to do this, but I won’t force you. You know it’s going to become excruciatingly uncomfortable the longer you put it off so I’ll just wait until you’re ready.” We both knew I was comfortable in my discomfort and we both knew I’d need to break out of this soon, so eventually I decided I would just set myself to auto-pilot and go to Church.

I couldn’t go back through the door, so I had to keep walking forwards.

Church was brilliant beyond brilliant. I sang praises to my Jesus, I listened to some brilliant, challenging teaching, I met lovely people, I drank tea. And when I left it was raining and God was washing away all the pain and stress that I had felt over the past few weeks.

I like the part of the Bible that talks about God speaking the world into existence, as though everything we see and feel were sentences from His mouth, all the wet of the world His spit. I feel written. My skin feels written, and my desires feel written. My sexuality was a word spoken by God, that I would be male, and I would have brown hair and brown eyes and come from a womb. It feels literary, doesn’t it, as if we are characters in books. You can call it God or a conscience, or you can dismiss it as that intuitive knowing we all have as human beings, as living storytellers; but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.

God has a better story for me than the one I had found some sort of strange, pretend comfort in. My story has been written and it is beautiful and bright and promises so much hope. I know Jesus so I have some sort of idea of what this story entails because, every so often, I try to listen to Him. So, when a friend tells me about their Church and I can’t get it out of my head for weeks, I’m pretty sure that God is telling me that He’s written something and that I need to go and find it.

When I was in Stirling God sat with me for many Sunday mornings telling me I needed to go to the Church I ended up at and, because I was comfortable, it took me until my final year to go. I had gone once in third year and, upon my return in fourth year, the pastor clearly remembered me and approached me for a chat to re-introduce himself and ask how I was doing; I was meant to be at that Church and I’m pretty certain I’m meant to be at the Church I was at this morning for the foreseeable future. Things that aren’t meant to be just don’t happen like that.

I’m smiling right now, smiling like I haven’t smiled in a long time. When I got home I had a chat with my Mum, just about every day things, but it was nice and happy. I haven’t been nice and happy for a while; I needed this morning more than anything else, I needed this morning so I could continue along the path that is the better story Jesus was writing for me all along.



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