The Arc of Your Story

As I work on the story arcs of the many characters in my book, I realize that each fictional character has their neat beginning and ending.

Unfortunately, for those of us who live in the real world, happy endings seem to be few and far between. Our happy endings seem less like “endings” and more like “interludes.” Only when a gloomy interlude subsides, does a happy interlude take its place.

Story Arc #1

For instance, I remember when I was in High School and was given a letter that informed me that I had to leave my Honors classes. The High School was overcrowded and didn’t have enough Honors teachers to accommodate all the Honors students, so they decided to pick students at random in order to remove them and, therefore, reduce class sizes.

My parents had raised me to view education as an important pursuit in life, and it was my intention to get into a good college. But if I was going to do that, I needed to attend those honor classes.

Now they were telling me that I had to give up my dreams of going to a great college—not because I didn’t merit it, but simply because I was unlucky.

It was then that my family led me in what would become the first grueling challenge of my life:  a one-man protest against the administration at my High School.

I kept attending my Honors classes, even though I was specifically told I would face dire consequences for doing so.

For months, I attended classes that I was “not supposed” to be in, and I was counted as absent in the classes I was “supposed” to be in. I didn’t know whether or not to do the homework assigned to me because I wasn’t sure if it would be counted towards a grade in the end. I was constantly anxious and terrified that at any point the school staff would come in and force me to leave my Honors classes.

My parents finally went as far as to contact the superintendent. Miraculously, the day after my parents contacted the superintendent, the principal called me to tell me that I would remain in my Honors classes.

We had won.

Later that year, my Honors English teacher, Ms. T, became one of the most influential teachers in my life. She was influential because she encouraged me to submit a short story to my first short story contest. (I didn’t win the contest. But it was fun to try.) You have no idea what it meant to me for a teacher to believe in me, trust me, respect me, and encourage me to do something that I loved.

Two years later, I was accepted into Stanford University, one of the best universities in the world.

Happy interlude.

Story Arc #2

Then, in college, the story became rough again. I was struggling with my closeted homosexuality and I was in a bad relationship with a man who manipulated me, lied to me, and betrayed the love I had for him. My heart was broken for the first time.

During that time, I ended up taking a playwriting class with a woman who eventually became my writing mentor: Cherrie Moraga. It was in her class that I was first encouraged to put down, in writing, all that I felt inside.

It was with the help of that playwriting class that I was able to summon up the courage to finally came out to my family. I came out in the hopes that no other man or woman in my family would every have to go through the crippling isolation I had to go through from being closeted and fearing rejection. I also hoped that, with my coming out, I would serve as a positive role model of someone who was out and proud.

Then, at the end of my college career, I encountered a wonderful surprise: I found myself in a loving, healthy relationship for the first time.

In the summer of 2007, I graduated with a BA in Drama and left college to pursue what I, and everyone else, had believed was my calling:  acting.

I had never been happier in all my life.

Happy interlude.

Story Arc #3

But after college, the story got bad again.

About a month after the idea for the novel I am now writing came to my mind, my grandmother passed away. My grandmother had been the rock of my extended family up until then.

Then, my first healthy, loving relationship came to an end and I found myself with yet another broken heart.

Finally, one morning, I was eating a bowl of cereal when a sharp, unbearable pain shot through my side. I never felt so much physical pain in my life. The pain was so bad that all I could do was scream—and I’m not, nor have I ever been, a screamer.

I was rushed to the E.R..

No one knew what was wrong with me.

As I was riding in the ambulance, I remember watching as the paramedic was thumbing through my wallet for my insurance card. As I stared at this woman, wondering if I was going to die, I thought about how ironic it would be to end my time on this earth with that final image:

Me sprawled out on a gurney, screaming at the top of my lungs, feeling an unbearable, shooting pain in my side while a stranger sitting next to me was thumbing through my wallet.

After I took in this absurd scene, I did something I never thought I’d do.

I made a deal with God.

I said:

“Okay God, I’ll became a famous actor like you want me to. I’ll do it! Just let me live one more day!”

Finally, I was brought to the hospital. After several hours the doctor discovered what was wrong with me:  I had a kidney stone.

The doctor told me that I would be fine and that all I would have to do was pass the stone through my body. I was given some painkillers and then sent away.

Now, you might be asking, did I keep that deal with God?

No. I didn’t. I spent a year trying to get myself to pursue an acting career only to realize that, in the end, I just wasn’t up for it.

In fact, as I began noticing all my acting aspirations fizzle, I looked back to my high school and college years and started to see a common thread that had nothing to do with acting:

A love for writing.

My True Story Arc

Through all my life’s challenges and triumphs my love for writing was a common thread that was always there, but it was so prevalent, it was hard for me to notice it at first.

Did you catch it, too?

The Honors English teacher who encouraged me to apply to a short story festival?

The writing mentor and the playwriting class that nurtured me and gave me the confidence to write honestly and boldly?

The idea for the novel that I ignored until a near death experience made me severely question what I was doing with my life?

Did you catch the common thread now?

You see, we may start off this life thinking we know the arc of our story. Thinking we have some idea of where we’re supposed to go, or where all the crazy plot twists are leading us. Often, we think, there’s just no method to all this madness. 

But I’m starting to find that this isn’t true.

Because if we look close enough, we may see that the arc of our true story was there—in plain sight—all along. It’s only when we refuse to honor this true arc that we’re thrown into a crazy plot twist.

For me, that plot twist manifested itself as a sharp, unbearable pain that led me to an E.R. room. The doctor called it a kidney stone. I now call it a divine “wake-up call.”

A call to write a book. A call that I refused to answer for two more years.

As a consequence of all my dithering, I was awarded with yet another wake-up call, and then another, and then another, until I had no choice but to begin writing the book I was meant to write.

And today, my story arc continues…

Holding True to Your Story Arc

Today, even with all the new challenges I face, I can say that there is one thing that does feed my growing resilience.

And that is this:  that within our life’s many story arcs—story arcs with many sad and happy interludes—there’s always one running thread that is our true story arc. This thread is very subtle, but it’s ever-present.

This thread is what you can hold onto when everything around you may feel as if it’s falling apart.

This thread is your lifeline. It’s your destiny. 

Without you knowing it, your true story arc has already kept you focused and strong through the hard times and through the good times.

Today, I hope you can acknowledge your arc with greater force and keep holding onto it. Because it’s this arc that got you through everything before, and it’s this arc that’s going to get you through a whole lot more.

much love,

Ollin

What have you recognized is the arc of your story? Please share with us in the comments below!

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26 comments on “The Arc of Your Story

  1. Ollin, thank you so much for your story. I am sitting here with tears streaming my face, and I honestly do not know why.

    I am home sick today. I probably could have gone to work and been miserable but I decided to stay home. Maybe there is some divine reason why, maybe not. I’ll never know.

    Since I was a teenager I wanted to be a writer. However, I am one of those people who gave into doubt and “you shouldn’t – it will never work” from naysayers.

    So I did anything and everything anyone else wanted me to do and followed an empty road to where I am now.

    I want to do so much! But my fathers words of “just be like everyone else, just be normal” haunt me every time I try to step outside the box and live my life for me. His words led me down a hard road of addiction and alcoholism.

    I’m sober five years, but I still at times feel worthless.. I am sorry for dumping on your page like this, but you really hit a nerve.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Darlene

    • Ollin says:

      Don’t worry Darlene,

      Just yesterday in fact I had a family member question my decision to write. She kept saying: “But you were such a good actor!” Which of course was implying: “Are you crazy? You should keep acting! Don’t do this writing stuff, it’s silly and not like you.”

      But how does she know what is right for me? How does she know what my passion is? I find that people try to constrain us out of two reasons: for their personal comfort, and for our protection. They want to feel like things don’t change, so when they see you change they feel threatened and want to keep you in a box.

      This isn’t you problem, it’s theirs.

      Then there’s the second thing. They think they know what’s best for you, and if you’re not doing what they think is best for you, they think you will get hurt, fail, etc. They are worried about you.

      But you know what Darlene? I’m finding that true love is the love that liberates, that sets you free to be who you want to be. That’s real love. Because all that I said above is really motivated by fear and limited thinking.

      Love is unlimited and it is fearless. So keep the people who allow you to grow and change, who support what it is YOU want to do. They may not understand it, but as long as they support you that’s all you need.

      As for me, I’ve learned not to rely on others to believe in my path, understand it, or condone it. I believe in my path, I understand it, and I condone it. And that’s enough for me.

      I am so glad this touched you. Maybe you are right. Maybe it was meant to. Good luck to you!

  2. Wow. You know, now you’ve made me think that I need to do some reflection, or at least live more attentivlely… I think I’m on the right path now, but it’s always good to reinforce that belief and check it once in a while.

    • Ollin says:

      You might find that, like me. Your common thread was there all along. Often we don’t see it, because it’s so subtle–it’s so ever-present it’s almost like the air around us. We forget it’s there, but we’re constantly surrounded by it! Right? Good luck on the self-reflection. Let me know what you find!

  3. Loved this Ollin. My entire life has been a path leading me to my novel, not done yet, as I think I am having to live or re-live some things in order to put those emotions in the novel as well but you are spot on and you’ve recognised the signs guiding you, that’s half of the battle because many of us are walking around blind, missing all the signs…

    • Ollin says:

      Your right. And I think that’s what I’m learning about resilience this year. It all starts with trusting the signs, seeing the signs, believing the signs. Trusting yourself, and trusting life’s process. I’m glad you’ve discovered how to follow the signs yourself Alannah!

  4. Christina says:

    Hi Ollin:)

    I absolutely love this post – it’s true, moving, and useful in keeping us hopeful and focused.

    I lost my grandmother when I was a sophomore at university, and because we were so close I think I lost myself without her there, without her strength and her belief in me.

    I hope that now I’ve found her strength again and made it part of me, but I always think of her words. She believed in fate, she used to say (in Italian) “Tutto e’ scritto” All is written. I think what she meant wasn’t that we had no control over life, but that when life took us down roads we never thought we’d take, it was really our soul trying to find its real home.

    • Ollin says:

      What a beautiful saying “Tutto e’ scritto.” I love that so much, I might have to write it down somewhere and post it at my writing station.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us yet again, Christina.

      By the way, you always take the time to comment and give your input on every post I write. I just wanted to say I appreciate the time you take to read my posts and leave comments. It’s always encouraging when my readers get really involved in the material I share here. Makes it feel less like I’m talking at people and more like I’m talking with people–which I prefer. Good luck to you!

      • Christina says:

        You’re very welcome Ollin:) I always look forward to reading your posts! They’re always so moving and I feel like despite it just being an online form of communication I feel like you let us into your life. That’s what made you such a success – you’re not scared to share.

  5. amandab714 says:

    hi ollin! this is amazing. i am experiencing the exact same thing right now. i am emailing you directly…i love the synergy. and i have what’s been going on in your blog since we’d been in touch…truly inspirational.

  6. I love you, Ollin. You are seriously one of my favorite people, though we’ve never met in person. I know we come from different backgrounds and belief systems, but we really have a lot in common. And you are such a brave person! I admire your determination. I admire your ability to keep going when the going gets tough. You’re going to go far in this life. One day you’ll be all published and famous, and I’ll get to say, “Hey, I knew that guy through blogging!”

    Also? Kidney stone? Not. Fun. I’ve had one. One of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced, and you know I’ve experienced a lot in the medical world. LoL So, I totally sympathize there.

    Anyway, keep your fabulous blog fabulous. Keep being the wonderful person that is you. Keep writing. Keep living. Keep smiling.

    xoxoxoxo

    • Ollin says:

      Aw, thank you so much Kenzie. I know, YOU KNOW MY PAIN. Isn’t that the worst thing ever? They told me it was the equivalent of pregnancy pains, except that pregnancy can last a whole day. Ahhh! I don’t know how women do that. Whatever, it was the worst physical pain I have ever felt in my life. Glad it’s over. Drink a lot of water folks! That prevents kidney stones.

      Well, Kenzie, you inspire me too as you know. And know that your ability to share the truth of your own painful journey is what gives me courage to share mine. I really don’t think I would be open on my blog if it wasn’t for you, Kenzie. I mean that in all honesty, sometimes I think you are so much more honest and straightforward than I am. I applaud you for that. You may disagree with me, but I think you are far braver than I am. Especially with all the challenges that you have faced. Keep doing what you’re doing too! Much love to you!

  7. Jacqui says:

    Great post, ollin.you have me thinking.I can’t wait to hear the good news

  8. Amy Buchheit says:

    I don’t have time to write about mine so eloquently here. The “short” version?

    * Knew I was an artist when I was three
    * Life got crazy around age 11 and I stopped creating visual art
    * Started playing the flute (then piccolo, then xylophone – all during the same period) from sixth grade through junior year of HS. Kicked a** but dropped out when the band director left (hated the new one)
    * Started creating visual art gain sophomore year of HS. Encouraged by Mr. Betts and Mrs. Chapman
    * Won 3rd place in a Mother’s for Drunk Drivers billboard contest (sophomore year)
    * My work selected for/displayed in Spokane’s city-wide “Children of the Sun” art exhibition 2 years running (only 2 or 3 students selected per school).
    * Started to learn bass guitar for the jazz choir
    * Tried out for the chorus in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”, got the role of Lucy (no previous classes or experience) in a school of 1500 students
    * Fighting with my mom senior year of HS, I moved out. Lost my job a few months later. Dropped out of school to find work/support myself
    * Moved back home after 8 months – had to work 2 jobs while finishing HS
    * Applied for college after graduating from HS – unable to get financial aid due to a tax rule
    * Stopped creating art (had been repeatedly told I couldn’t make a living at it anyway) – did crafts
    * Job after job after job (bakery manager, bingo caller, bingo floor worker, fast food worker, waitress, Airfield Management Specialist (US Air Force), assistant manager at apartment complex, veterinary assistant, retail worker, marketing assistant.
    * Had started sporadically doing art again in there somewhere … and did an art show at a coffee shop around 1996
    * Decided I was miserable doing anything but art, and started college part time in 1997
    * Had to drop out of school for 2 years due to chronic and serious health issues
    * Back to school – graduated from Marylhurst University with honors (4.0 GPA)

    And the rest is history! Started doing my art business during the 2 years I couldn’t do work or school. Was unwilling to stop working on my commitment to be an artist, even though I was really sick. So I have been a working professional artist since 2000, even though I was simultaneously earning my art degree. 🙂

    • Ollin says:

      Wow, what an inspiring story! Thank you so much for sharing and in such detail. You’re a testament to the old saying “don’t ever give up.” Congratulations on reaching that milestone of making a living off of your art! That is no easy feat.

  9. Amy Buchheit says:

    Oh yah, forgot to mention that I was asked to do artwork to advertise the school play “Grease” my junior year of high school (alongside my best friend at the time, Brenda Mulvania). Her art (a color drawing of a juke box) was used as the promo poster. My color drawing of a souped up 1950s muscle car with flames along the side was used for all of the flyers. 🙂

  10. Meredith says:

    Ah, life story archs. Gotta love them. God builds things into us and often it takes a long time before we know it.

    In ninth grade, God caused a revival in my heart through the sudden death of a high school senior I was acquainted with. In tenth grade, a biblical worldview book brought me deeper into God’s Word. In eleventh grade the combination of a daily devotional book and Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris caused me to commit to sponsoring a child through Children International. This past year — my freshman year in college — difficulty in friendship repeatedly brought me to my Bible for comfort in God’s Word and His promises. My arch, my thread, though writing is there throughout along with many other things, is living my life fully and for God alone — not myself. It’s so easy to lose focus, to think my life should be about me, but there is so much greater fulfillment and peace in living for Christ. And it’s exciting knowing that He has the same will for others.

    I pray God will lead you to His infinite power, grace, and truth through His son Jesus Christ. He loves you more than you could every imagine.

  11. Lynn Fang says:

    I loved reading your story, Ollin. I was wondering if I had a story arc too, or if it was too meddled up in what others wanted of me. As a child I loved to draw sketches, journal, and write fictional stories. My artistic pastimes dissolved as cultural dogma settled in, and my parents took hold of my teenage years and made sure I was studying at all times. In college, I was intrigued by politics, ecology, and social justice. But I studied neurobiology, which was fine because I was also love psychology. But it meant I couldn’t fully explore my other interests as much. Honestly? I want to know everything. Why can’t we live freely? Why does my body work the way it does? Why do I experience things this way? What does it mean to truly be alive? What happens in nature? Why is it here, why is it important? Perhaps my story arc is understanding and knowing the world in which we live. Self-actualization of a universal order. Knowing. Does that count?

    • Ollin says:

      Of course it is, Lynn! Sounds to me like you might be a teacher, or a professor type. Someone who wants to acquire knowledge sharing it with others and inspire them to take action. That doesn’t mean you have to become the “traditional” teacher or professor, maybe you are going to do it through blogging. Who knows? We should be open to see how life unfolds for us! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  12. spinx says:

    My story is much less painful, with little stumbles along the way, which, as I have come to realize, is not halfway as good as it may first sound. It might sound crazy, but there times when I find myslef aching for some hardships. I want them to happen, I want to struggle and burn my damn hands!

    Why?

    Only when you truly fall, will you know where you have gone wrong, and maybe even open up new possibilities. Hurt is the best teacher.

    I work hard, but having everything run so smoothly can be a devil, as it projects your mind that everything is, in fact, allright. It implies that I am doing the right thing- but then….. why is there this nagging doubt that just won´t go away?
    Why do I have to remind myslef that I need to get better, instead of WANTING to get better?

    I can tell you this much. I was into art. Not becuase I was overly good at it. Still, I found myself doing it even when the first four grades ended (Europe). I didn´t stop drawing when I entered highschool, and didn´t stop doing it when I entered college either.
    I grew more skilled every day. Not because of particular talent, but sheer will and practice. I kept hearing how great my drawings were, and much skill I had- I was a kid, I liked the compliments, so of course I continued.

    But as I grew older and older, my interest took a shift. Of course, being a human meant that I had this natural idea that everyone of us on this planet had a certain purpose in life. I used my brain (for a while) and figured- well, I can draw, and better than most people I knew—>> of course this meant that art was my purpose in life!

    And because it came easy to me I was reassured. Isn´t it the way it works? What comes easy, must be right.

    So for the next years (I just turned 18) I woke up every day, thinking of art and how to improve it. I had my moments of course. I would take one look at Monet, Joseph Turner and Rembrandt- and….BOING….gone was the last painting. But I recovered, every time I recovered. And each year, I found myself closer and closer to what I once percieved as impossible.!
    Could it be, I asked myself, that all those artists before me had this immense selfdoubt as well? Monet- doubting? It must have been so! So I continued.

    Well, two years later, I turned twenty, I became a bit smarter and slightly more mature- not much though. The depressions came and went, and I kept reminding myself that every artist (painter) had to go through those phases. I still woke up, almost every day- having to get better.
    The short sentences I have always used to explain certain figures and sequences (for my paintings were always aimed to tell a certain type of story) kept getting longer and longer. I had just as much fun writing them as I had drawing the figures.

    Shortly after, a lot of things happened.

    I stopped drawing for two months. Didn´t touch a single page- out of sight, out of mind. It was easier than I thought. I did not crave to reach my pen, to scribble. And for some reason, I didn´t feel like I was missing it much either. I was still thinking about drawing- or so I thought back then.
    It should have been my first clue. but then again, we just don´t learn stuff like that at school.

    When I started reaching for my pen again it came just as unceremonious. I took it, and drew two characters I had come up with. To my surprise, the drawing ended up being better then two months ago. It always did when I took these breaks (which I did, though never for such long periods before). I getting into comics. not reading them (hardly ever did that) but drawing them. Panel by panel, I would see myself directed a movie too, directing my characters.

    Of course, it always had to do with drawing, so I was assured. Art was still my goal after all.

    I turned 22 and 23. The sentences on each page had increased. My block had long since stopped being filled with single pictures, instead panels had taken over. I sent some of it in. I won stuff. I grew more confident. Comics were still greatly art, right? The transition had gone smoothly as well. Drawing panels, conjouring up characters suited me even more than simply focusing on one big painting. I always wanted that connection.

    That nagging feeling had stopped haunting me.

    I was very happy for a while. I had my characters, I had ideas for stories jumping me every corner. my notebooks were filling up with sentences. And since I now had my mind set on becoming a comicartist, I started searching for books that would help me get my point across.
    Scenes, plotpoints, characters, chapters……ect. I started lending books on all of those matters. Screenwritingbooks in particular.

    I would spend hours reading on that stuff. I never even noticed that those hours had grown into three months.

    And allthough it took up most of my day, it never even occured t me that I was actually doing WORK.

    I WANTED to get better at this.

    Now a new dilemma started. My brain was coming up with scenes (I had now taken up thinking in scenes) faster than my arm could draw them. I had always had the patience- drawing drilled me into it. Certainly, when I once spend eight hours drawing a pair of pants from every angle to get the folds right- I would also be able to work through this.

    But that impatience wouldn´t leave me.

    I wanted to get my scenes on paper (!), and I did not want it to take a year or two to be done, but a day. My brain kept thinking ahead of each scene, and then just like that—-I stopped drawing once more.

    There was this feeling that I was close to reaching something- but I just had no idea what could be left. I had my art- still. My purpose in life. I had discovered that I wished to tell stories through comics. I had more than twenty authorspages under my favourites-far more than I ever had on drawing.

    Then the BIG THING happened——————————————————–

    I never was into fantasy books, and I did not want to read Harry Potter, but a friend had bought me a copy anyways, so I did it, to please her. That was years ago, but there wa something about the books that had kept me fascinated ever since. More than the writing (nothing special, but it works) I was fascinated by JKs ability to create a world so well crafted, and plots so damn well presented that I always wanted to turn to the next page.

    So, that night, when I took that second long break from drawing, I was searching the internet, and just like that, stumbled on an OUTLINE-plan JK had prepared for her foruth book. A single piece of paper, lined with the major plot-points, and subplots.

    I know why it did to me what it did- but it just did it! The magic worked even from that single piece of paper!

    That night I found myself completeing my first story.

    The next week, I had my notebook filled with scenes, and even two drawings, though I paid them no attention at all. They only helped me envision my characters. for that alone- they were perfect.
    That same night I discovered “STORYFIX”——————-and read every single page he had put up. His book arrived two weeks later, and just like that, it finally clicked.

    I did enjoy drawing and painting as a kid. I enjoyed it as a teen too, of course, having something I was so good at. But as I grew older i came to enjoy stories. And the only way I knew to get that out was through drawing. I never missed drawing when I stopped because i simply never stopped thinking about my characters—–and I only started drawing again, because I did not write yet. I wanted to get the scenes out–I took the paper, and my pen, only I used it the wrong way.

    So many years, i have mistaken my lines for words.

    Which is funny, because my lines have long since stopped being important. The feeling I created with them, that had started counting- and that alone. That is why even now instead of seing words, i see emotion, I see the scene, I watch TV.

    To me, a story is only good when you stop seeing the words, and start watching TV.

    There are no good lines- only a great endresult.

    Writing came easier to me than anything else I have ever started in my life. I was neither scared nor discouraged the way I was with art. I even found, that while I certainly lacked a lot of skill and things that should come way easier- I had great advantages in other fields, such as setting, scene execution and seeing my character.

    I have just turned 25 years. For the past six months i have been writing every single day, for a minimum of four hours. Along the way i have also discovered the meaning of life, true happiness and the value bad happenings hold.

    For the first time in years I find myself waking up each morning WANTING to get better at writing, instead of just having to.

    —————————–

    You are partly famous, Collin. That´s why I wrote this. (My English is not the best, but it will do)

    Greetings from Vienna.

    • Ollin says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing your story! Vienna? Austria! Well that’s a new country I didn’t know I was reaching. Well I’m glad you found your calling. (It’s Ollin by the way, not Collin. No worries.) And I’m so happy to hear you love writing and you love your life. Good luck to you as you continue your journey.

  13. scott hunter says:

    I think the divine was certainly acting in your life, as God is prone to do. The question is always: Are we listening? All the best with your writing!

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