Prodigal Magazine

Five Ways To Be A Better Character In Your Story

Photo Credit: Hannah Yoon
Written By: Darrell Vesterfelt

If you read Prodigal every day, you know that we are committed to telling stories. In fact, you probably know that we believe good stories have the ability to change the world.

Here’s the thing. In order to tell a good story, first you have to be living one.

How do you do that? Good question.

The first thing a good story needs is a good character. A good character is what makes a good movie worth watching, or a good book impossible to put down. A good character is also what makes your life count for something. Think about someone you really admire, someone you want to be like. They are someone who is living as a good character in their life story.

So that begs the question: what does it take to be a good character?

Here are five ways to be a better character in your story:

1. A good character wants something greater than himself.

My friend Kevin McManus is planting a church in South Florida, for example. He moved his entire family from North Carolina, at a time that wasn’t even very convenient for him. It was the middle of summer in Florida and his wife was eight months pregnant.

You want to know why? Because he wants the people of South Florida to know Jesus.

Kevin left his big house, his good job, and his comfortable life, not because it was better for him, but because he knew his sacrifice would be meaningful.

If he had clung to the life that was most comfortable or convenient for him, he might have missed his opportunity to live a good story.

Are you embracing opportunities to live for something greater than yourself?

2. A good character is good — but not perfect — and he is okay with his imperfections.

I wrote an article a few weeks ago where I admitted that I lost control of my emotions and was really rude to a woman at my apartment complex.

It’s easy for me to be embarrassed about that story, to want to hide that part of myself, because it actually is really embarrassing that I would act that way.

We all have imperfections and those of us who hide our imperfections make really terrible characters.

The thing is, it’s only in admitting my mistake, and being transparent about it, that I become a really “likeable” character in my own story because others can relate.

What are your imperfections and are you willing to be honest about them?

3. A good character finds redemption in her suffering.

My wife told a story about something really terrible that happened to her when she was little. The thing that happened to her has caused a lot of suffering in her adult life. If you’re curious, you can read about it here.

Since she wrote the article, she has connected with girls who faced similar kinds of suffering and who, through reading the article, found the courage they needed to be honest about what they had experienced. Helping someone else climb out of the pit that she was in for so many years of her life is redemptive for her.

Not to mention, writing the article has helped her to come to new understanding about herself, and new security in her relationship with the Lord.

She’s a character who is living a good story.

4. A good character is willing to engage conflict.

Matt Appling wrote a story several weeks ago about a time that he went on a Mission trip without praying about it first, without even asking his wife. The decision he made could have potentially brought a lot of conflict, but Matt wasn’t afraid of conflict.

Good characters can’t be afraid of conflict. They have to be able to live in conviction, and make decisions out of that conviction, and willing to engage whatever conflict comes along their way.

If you’re living a good story conflict will come. Conflict is not a bad sign. It’s actually a good one.

When was the last time you bravely faced conflict?

5. A good character takes people with them in their journey.

Stories get really boring when they’re just about one person. Think about it. What would have happened in Cast Away if Tom Hanks never got off the island? His story would have lacked substance and meaning.

Our story is only as meaningful as the people who we are in relationship with.

Prodigal Magazine doesn’t matter without you — do you know that we think that? Without you sitting in your pajamas, or your cubicle, reading, commenting, submitting your stories, learning what it means to tell and live a good story, what we’re doing here loses purpose. We do what we do because of you.

We believe that stories have the ability to change the world, yes. But even more importantly we believe stories can change your life.

Prodigal can’t do that without you.

We’re invested in bringing you with us by helping you communicate the story you’re living. If you have a story that you’d like to share, feel free to submit to our Write Page or if there is anything I can do to help you live a better story, e-mail me here: d@www.prodigalmagazine.com.

What are other ways that you can become a better character in your story?

These are my thoughts adapted from my experience at Storyline by Donald Miller.

About The Author

Darrell is a the founder of Prodigal Press, a storytelling firm based in Minneapolis, and senior editor of Prodigal Magazine. His life’s passion is to help people tell their story so they can see and understand the truth of God at work in their lives. You can follow him on twitter at @dvest.

  • http://thomasemason.net Thomas Mason

    I really enjoyed reading this article. One thing that I try to do with my blog is to share my story. It’s not pretty sometimes and not all the frazzled pieces are tied up neatly at the end because I am still living my story and my story is that of imperfection.

    I would love to write an article for Prodigal magazine but I feel I can’t just yet for fear of lacking credibility. But soon I hope.

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      Thanks for stopping by Thomas. The only credibility you need to write for Prodigal Magazine is to be living a good story. If you have one to share we want to read it.

  • http://Jonfulk.com Jon Fulk

    Dude, you went to Storyline? I bet that was awesome! Enjoyed this post. We can either float through life or choose to become that character in a story greater than our own. I think you’ve inspired me to re-read “A Million Miles…”

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      Jon!

      Miss you being around my blog. Glad to see you. I dare you to read that book again. Hope you are doing well.

      • http://Jonfulk.com Jon Fulk

        Thanks, Darrell! School is out now, so you’ll be seeing more of me :) . Dare accepted!

  • http://everydayawe.com Stephanie Spencer

    Great reminder. I think about this often as I balance blogging & social media with my life as a mom. I have to set boundaries. If I spend all my energy and time looking at a screen, I miss out on the adventures in store for me right in my living room.

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      I think good blogging comes from good living.

      • http://everydayawe.com Stephanie Spencer

        Great point, Darrell.

        My blog is full of my experiences. I write often about how I see God moving in my everyday life.

        Yet, sometimes I get caught up in the social media and marketing aspects of blogging. When that happens, I get to my computer to write, and find I don’t have stories to share. I’ve been too busy living through everyone else’s stories all day.

  • http://losingself.wordpress.com Tracy

    I really enjoy reading posts on here. I’m so glad I found prodigal magazine, maybe one day I’ll submit a story too.. God bless you

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      I am really glad you are enjoying Prodigal Magazine!

  • Bill Clarkson

    A good character remembers “It’s not my story, it’s God’s story for my life.” Being a willing vessel, wholely devoted to God’s purpose and plan…..

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      But to be a good character even in that story you have choices to make and conflict to overcome. A loving God lets us choose Him and his story.

  • http://jasonthomascormier.blogspot.com/ Jason Cormier

    Awesome points. All of them totally on point.

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      Do you have any to add?

      • http://jasonthomascormier.blogspot.com/ Jason Cormier

        Anything I would have added would have been in that post, except on thing legacy. And my thoughts on that I sent in a submission for here.

  • http://www.caitlinmuir.com Caitlin

    Thanks for this reminder, Darrell.

    I was talking about this concept with a friend who is a teacher. She was saying that one thing that she tells her students in underprivileged schools is to recognize the story they are telling themselves about their lives. The ones who tell themselves that they can succeed are the ones who do. When they tell themselves that they can’t succeed, the narrative become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    That made me think of all the times I’ve sabotaged myself by believing I couldn’t do something. And all the times I’ve pulled off the ridiculous because I had the moxie to tell myself that I could.

    It’s a great way to live.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      I am glad this resonated with you. I think it does with many in our generation. I hope at least.

  • http://journalmissionalliving.wordpress.com/ Sharon R Hoover

    Awesome article, Darrell! I have only just begun reading Prodigal Magazine and truly love the freshness and honesty. Your #2 “A Good Character is Good…not Perfect” is a spot-on encourager to me. I am a recovering people-pleaser and image-builder. :-) It truly is in my messiness that I learn … and, I have found, that I can reach out to others through the mess as well. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some of the messiness here in time!

    • Darrell Vesterfelt

      Isn’t it freeing when we understand that Jesus calls us to be exactly who we are? He doesn’t accept us because of the perfection we sometimes aim for. He is just a really good dad that wants us exactly where we are at.

  • Pingback: Wednesday Wisdom On Character | Leelee Writes

  • 1lori_1

    I soon lose interest in a book or movie where there is no conflict, no problems and real character, and along with that you need a breath of hope that flows throughout, otherwise the story would be just depressing. Lots of good points here, as soon as I can I plan to come back and read through some of these stories!

  • Kelli Woodford

    I couldn’t agree more with your synopsis here. 

    Storytelling must be our generation’s mother-tongue.

    And your challenge to become a better character in my story?  Wow.  That’s one I’m taking with me.
    Thanks so much . . . considering adding my story here sometime, as I feel led.

    Blessings to you.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    i like it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kurt.bennett.7 Kurt Bennett

    Wow, never heard anybody describe life this way. Outstanding post!

  • Pingback: Five Ways To Be A Better Character In Your Story – Prodigal Magazine | bennett's blog

  • Irene

    Wow, this is very encouraging for me. As a brand new believer in the early 80s I started to write chapter titles for a book I felt I was being led to write about my life story after my “new birth”. The book title would be an all too familiar scripture verse. Here I am 31 years later, and I am realizing that the book could not be written at that time, nor any other time in between, because the story is not complete yet. And that is because the scripture title is still meaningful in my story, and it is not ready to be completed. So, all the 5 ways of becoming a better character are in place to keep my dream alive for writing that book! Thanks!