I recently pulled out an old manuscript that I decided I might work on again. At the same time I felt I should learn to be a better writer. In doing this research, I learned that there are four types of story structures: milieu, idea, character, and event. As I tried to figure out what type of story I had actually written — I realized that my life is a character story.
What is important to me is how have I changed? Am I more spiritual than ten years ago? Have I become a better listener? Do I react to a stressful situation from a place of inner peace? None of this was really a surprise to me.
What was a surprise was that the reason I sometimes feel disconnected from some of my friends is that their lives are not following a character script. If you go around a friend who lives an event story — they will point out things like: that is where my high school graduation was held, I went to my first concert there, that was my favorite hangout. You’re not likely to get emotional content. How do they feel differently now then when they were a teen.
An idea friendship is going to involve answering questions. Why did you go to the movies rather than bowling? If you’re considering quitting your job, the idea friend is going to want to delve into the notion of how this idea is going to play out if you pursue it. And they are definitely going to want to know what happened after you pursued this idea.
A milieu friend doesn’t care why you went to Russia. They don’t care for a list of all the events that occurred while you were there. And don’t bother to go into how it changed you as a person. A milieu friend exists and enjoys the space they are in. They love to go to new places all the time. Being in that space is what is important. Bring out the photo album and chatter should be about how the culture was different, what was the food like, how did their weather compare…. They will be looking at the pictures and imaging themselves there.
Each type of story structure is powerful in its own right.Each type of story structure can exist in your life but it is likely that one of them clearly stands out. Knowing this is as important as knowing what genre of book you’re buying at a bookstore. If you bought a romance novel don’t expect the girl to get chopped to bits at the end of the book. The girl ALWAYS gets the guy. If you send a 500 word email to a friend detailing all the reasons you did what you did over the weekend and how it has changed your life — and the friend emails back — “I had to talk to my mother.” — knowing how they structure their life could save your friendship. If they are an event person, they just poured their heart out to you. If you know they hate to “talk” and they don’t have a good relationship with their mom and they used the word “had” — they just told you they are in deep deep pain and you as a friend will need to ask what events led up to this talk.
Or you could not understand that is the way they are and get ticked off because you wrote and wrote and wrote about all the reasons you did what you did and how dare they send you a one sentence response about their weekend.
So what kind of story do you structure your life around? If you’re not happy with your job, relationship, life — maybe you just need to shift to a new way to structure your life. I used to live an idea life — at some point it changed from being exhilarating to exhausting always needing to know the answer to everything. I’ve checked off the important events in my life. And I’ve spent the last decade delving into mine and lots of other people’s characters. If you’ve noticed on my blog (I just have) that I have spent way more time lately on my photography than anything else. I think I am entering my milieu phase. I hope whatever story structure you build your life around that it is a peaceful one.