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.
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.
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.
“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.
What have you recognized is the arc of your story? Please share with us in the comments below!
To follow the Courage 2 Create and find out what happens to Ollin and his novel, you can subscribe by inserting your e-mail into the subscription box in the top right corner of the sidebar! Subscription is completely free! Thank you for subscribing!