If a song only had one extended note, maybe middle-C, and it rang for the required 3.25 minutes a good pop song, would it be a good song? If a movie starred one character who did nothing for 90 minutes except sit and stare at the camera would it be a good movie? Would a blank canvas be a good painting?
Obviously, these would be terrible works of art, maybe interesting social experiments, but as far as art goes they fail. Because art includes variation, ups and downs. Art is about change.
In the simplest of senses this line is what makes anything with a narrative interesting. There are variations on this theme but almost always a quality story has a version of this line and its six points:
- Introduction: Here we learn the main character, their motivations, the setting, etc.
- Conflict: This is an unexpected interruption that gets the story going.
- Rising Action: After the conflict happens, the characters need to respond. The response to the catalytic shift is where secondary characters, new settings, deviations happen, tension is built. This is where the bulk of the story happens.
- Climax: All of the rising action and its deviations build to this moment where every thing comes to a head. It’s a pivot, everything that’s gone wrong is shifted again. Typically, the climax is the most exciting part of the story.
- Falling Action: After the climax the dust has to settle. Like the Rising Action responded to the conflict, the Falling Action is everything responding to the climax.
- Resolution: This is the most satisfying moment of a well-told story. This is where we arrive back “home” but it’s better than it was before. It ends higher than the story started. The characters are richer and better for all their troubles, in the end all is well. And everybody lived happily ever after.
I mean it when I say most stories follows this line in some fashion or another. Here’s a quick example but a quick disclaimer before I get going:
I went through a stage in college where I was basically obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. The movies, the books, any musical version of it, any spinoffs. I don’t know, it was weird. Anyways, my senior thesis was titled “Authorial Intent and Political Allusions in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.’”
I wish I was joking.
In the Introduction we find Dorothy, an orphan, living with her Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, and her little dog too on a farm in gray Kansas. The book includes the word “gray” in some fasion over ten times in one paragraph. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the Conflict to happen, The Cyclone. And Dorothy is whisked away to the Land of Oz where we find no clearer example of Rising Action: The Yellow Brick Road.
Along the way she meets the brainless Scarecrow, the heartless Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Each of these characters with their clear wants and desires and they travel down that Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City. When they arrive at the Emerald City it seems that the story is almost at its peak but the Wizard sends Dorothy and company further on to slay the Wicked Witch of the West.
So off they go towards the Climax at the witch’s castle. They travel through Winkie Country where the Wicked Witch of the West lives.* The climax happens when the Witch gets splashed and melts. Right after she’s defeated the formerly subjugated Winkies ask the Tin Man to be their new ruler but he says he has to first help Dorothy home. Which begins our Falling Action.
Dorothy and her crew head back to the Wizard to get their rewards and there the Wizard makes good on his promises and gives the Scarecrow a brain of oatmeal and needles, the Tin Man a silk heart, and the Lion a “potion” of courage and promises to fly Dorothy home. But due to some strange circumstances Dorothy is unable to fly away with him back to Kansas and as The Wizard is flying away he appoints the Scarecrow the new mayor of the Emerald City!
The action continues to fall and the group travels south to the good witch Glinda where along the way the Lion kills a Giant Spider who was terrorizing the animals of the jungle. After his victory they ask the Lion to be their king. When they find Glinda, Dorothy hugs her new friends and they go off to their respective kingdoms. Dorothy and Glinda go through the whole clicking the heals and “No place like home” rigamarole and all is well.
Remember that at the Resolution everything is better than it was at the start, everything is happily ever after. The Scarecrow doesn’t just get brains – he gets the Emerald City. The Tin Man not just a heart but the Winkies. The Lion assumes his natural role as King of the Jungle. Dorothy arrives home to not the flat gray Kansas with her gray aunt and uncle and gray barn, instead she arrives to what the book says are the “broad plains of Kansas” and the new barn her uncle had built.
Every story follows this basic structure, including the story each of us tell daily with our lives:
We wake up – Introduction; something happens – Conflict; things happen after that – Rising Action; then there’s a high or low moment, maybe lunch – Climax; then more stuff happens – Falling Action; we go to sleep – Resolution.
Rinse and repeat tomorrow. Right? Everyday there are seven billion stories told. Yours, mine, everybody we’ve ever encountered. Everyday we tell a story.
And that’s nothing to say of each of us telling a life long story.
We’re born – Introduction; our first cry – Conflict; we grow up – Rising Action; travel the world, get married, have kids, buy our first house – all Climaxes; retiring, having grandkids, complaining about how new technology works – Falling Action; death – Resolution.
Every life is a story.
And there’s every kind of story in between that one? Maybe there are lots of ups and downs, maybe all ups, or all downs. Everybody is in the midst of a story.
Today seven billion stories are being told but they’re just bit parts in the Great Story. Our daily dramas, all the stuff we’re feeling, every amazing thing that has ever happened to us, every awful thing that has ever hurt us, all our Valleys and all of our Shadows are just cameos and extras in somebody else’s movie.
Shakespeare writes in his play As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players.”
God is in the midst of telling His own story and you and me are mere players on His stage. Our ups and downs exist within the story of God, not alongside of it. Our daily dramas unfold amidst the backdrop of God’s eternal Drama. Despite what we think – we’re not the main character of His story. He is! The most exceptional of us are just quick cameos.
And this would be a great burden causing intense existential dread like how the writer of Psalm 8 writes:
When I consider the heavens,…what is mankind that you are mindful of them?
Except God’s Story is for us. Even though we’re small and finite, bit players in God’s story, He still crowns us with crowns of glory as Psalm 8 finishes.
And God’s story is not exclusive from ours, happening out there, distant from us, out in the cosmos, or in a dusty old book. His story intimately involves us. He places Mankind in the garden, Christ goes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and hangs on a cross for us sinners, the Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of believers, and at the end God makes His dwelling place among His people.
God story isn’t about us but it is for us.
And if God’s story is for us then we can have great hope because as we walk through our own valleys we can know that Christ has gone before us. In the midst of our great sorrows and heartaches and fears we know that God is with us. In the face of death we know that Jesus Christ hung on a tree for us.
If God’s story is for us then we can have great hope because we know the end. We know that God is preparing a wedding feast before our defeated enemies. We know that we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever where mercy and goodness will follow us all our days.
*The Witch lives in Winkie country… which makes her a little less terrifying, don’t you think?