Lance Brett Hall

Stories Make Meaning. How Do We Make Stories?

“Live a Great Story”


Megan and I were in San Diego a few weekends ago. An old friend worked on a new show at the La Jolla playhouse. In addition, seeing the southern part of Southern California and the San Diego zoo has been on our to-do list since we moved here.

Poking around some cute Coronado stores, I saw a decal stuck to the wall that simply said, “Live a Great Story”. It was apparently a decoration, or left over from some past display. If there had been a stack of them for sale, I probably would’ve snapped one up. Since I saw it, that sticker has been on my mind.

Here’s the problem: you can’t live a great story. You can only tell it.

I recently heard comedian Mike Birbiglia comment that people tell him “stories” all the time that aren’t stories. They’re just things that happened to happen to people. A story is something different. A story is information ordered in a particular beginning, middle, and end.

“Isn’t it wild? [Thing] happened!” is not a story.

In that same way, “living is a great story” is impossible. Life is boring a lot of the time. So much happens in our day that is just not worthy of narration.

I get it, though, that the “Live a Great Story” sticker is trying to tell us to live adventurously, courageously, to go out and find something that we can turn into a great story. That’s good enough advice.

But the fact remains that our days are filled with things that aren’t worthy of story. And sometimes, life surprises us during mundane events, and those make great stories.

Matthew Dicks writes about his “Homework for Life”: his practice of writing one or two things down every day that change us. That’s it: that’s the simplest criteria for a story. For example, Dicks won the Moth GrandSLAM event with a story about dropping his car keys on his shoe.

In that sense, you can’t live a great story, you can only tell one. A lot of really interesting things can happen to you. If your “story”, though, is, “Isn’t it wild, [interesting thing] happened!” It might be difficult to care. If something mundane happened, but it caused you to stop and notice the unrest inside of yourself, it’s possible to make a riveting story.

So, yes, go live a great story! But do your friends a favor and learn how to tell a good one, too!