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How to live a better story

One of the many pitfalls that lead to a monotonous life and marriage is the failure to discover the story you’re living within. I’ve written on this idea before on by asking this question: “If your marriage were a movie, would you want to go see it?”

What about your life? It’s a simple question, but it’s difficult to answer (at least it seems difficult).

Morning after morning, we begin the same routine, the same job, the same chores, only to go to bed and repeat it all the next day – the next week – the next month. Life can easily become a series of routine. Conversations. Hobbies. Sporting events. Kid’s activities. Date night. Sex.

While life may be busy, and you may even have a good relationship in the midst of this routine – do you find yourself with the sinking feeling that something’s missing?

Our materialistic society claims the answer to what’s missing is found in owning the “right” gadget/car/house/clothes/3D TV. (imagine – reality TV in 3D – do we ever need to leave our house again?)

The reason routine so easily overtakes us is our forgetting that we are living within a story. And most people have a boring life because they’re living in a boring story.

According to Robert McKee, the guru of story, there are certain rules or principles that must be present in order for a story to be good.

Three rules for a good story

1. There has to be a main character you care about.

That’s you. How well are you caring for yourself in your story? Many stories are derailed when you don’t care about the main character. It happens when you live through your children, or marriage, or job.

You are more than a parent, spouse, and worker. You are also someone who had dreams as big as the moon. What were they? What are they? Are you living them?

2. There has to be some sort of conflict.

If you’re married, this one is probably already present. If you have kids, then you can surely check this one off the list. Even if you’re single with no kids, life is still full of conflict. It’s unavoidable.

How much effort do you spend trying to avoid conflict in your life? Not doing something because of the work or risk or unknown involved?  What would happen if you took the risk and stepped fully into the unknown?  A good story involves a main character who leans into the conflict — who jumps into it with both feet.

3. The story must have a climactic ending.

Photo by joiseyshowaa

This is not your death, it’s the milestones you achieve in life. The realization of dreams. The conquering of fears.

There are many climactic endings throughout life and marriage. Starting your own company. Going back to school to finish your degree or change career paths. Traveling around the world.

If you’re living a boring story, it’s no wonder that you may wake up several years into marriage and feel lost.

I’ve felt this way lately — kinda down and floundering. I thought this was related to schedules and the hectic pace of life, but now I think it’s more related to a longing for something more. Something beyond the routine.

What if?

Here’s a possible solution: Ask yourself “what if?”

What if you asked yourself a series of questions? Things like …  What if you ran a marathon? What if you renewed your marriage vows? What if you quit your job? What if you brought home a puppy today? What if you and your family adopted a child?

If your story has gotten boring, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself the what if question.

Within the answer, you’re going to find the keys to a better story.

If you’re interested in my answers to the what if question … I can’t tell you yet, but it’s already added a great twist to my family’s story. If you want to hear what turn our story has taken, be sure to subscribe to Simple Marriage.  Shameless plug I know.

Try this.  In the comment box, brainstorm five “what if?” questions as quickly  as you can. Take this assignment seriously, but do it fast. What will happen is that you’ll begin to dream, you’ll stop thinking of life as stagnant, and you’ll be reminded that life, for the most part, is what you make of it.

This idea comes from Donald Miller, be sure to read his newest book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” for more.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Anna

    What if I did a drawing EVERY day? What if we had takeaway once a week? What if I cared about myself enough to cut out the junk food? What if my husband and I took a dance class? What if I made a plan for my next five years and put it on the fridge?

    They seem like small things… but thanks for the prompt to get them out of my head!

  2. Becca

    This is hard! But thanks. I love love love your comments about conflict! There has to be a “you ‘n’ me against the world, baby” feeling to a relationship to really keep things vibrant.

    1. What if we moved to America?
    2. What if we joined Round Table? (a social and charitable group for young adults)
    3. What if we fell pregnant immediately after the wedding?
    4. What if we found more grown-up friends?
    5. What if we invite the neighbours over for dinner?

  3. Segolene

    I am very surprised to see that this article is almost a pure copy paste from a book I am reading right now from Donald Miller: “A million miles in a thousand years”. In my country we call that plagiarism and is it illegal. I am very sad that this web site (that I enjoy regularly) lets this happen. The least Mr. Allan could do is to give credit to the original author.

    • Corey

      I did give credit to Donal Miller- it’s at the bottom of the post. He is one of my favorite authors and the last thing I would want to do to any author is take their work and pawn it off as my own.

      • exhale. return to center.

        thank you for coming back to respond to this. i read this comment, as well as the one that followed, as i was running out the door this morning and the whole thing made me really uncomfortable.

        glad to come back tonight and see your response and that there was credit given in the post that i and others missed the first time though.

        on a very positive note, i had never heard of donald miller or his book before reading this and now i’m thinking it is definitely something i should check out!

        thanks again for the inspiration!


  4. Rebecca

    I was thinking the same thing Segolene! I kept scrolling down looking for a hat tip of some sort.
    I see how Corey applied this directly to marriage but giving Donald Miller credit would have been nice. The elements of a good story are universal (I think) so even Miller’s book wasn’t totally unique however this particular application is straight from Miller’s pages.
    If you want to read a full book about living a better story I recommend reading “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.

    • Corey

      I concur with your recommendation to read “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” as it is a great read. Sorry I did not make the source credit more visible. I will go back and add it.

      • Mary Beth

        I read the post all the way through the first time and noticed quite clearly that you referenced the book. It irritates me when people make these serious accusations of plagiarism without having gone back to check the post!

        • ksenia

          I agree entirely. Stay calm.

  5. exhale. return to center.

    this post really touched me. thank you.

    this is something i’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    my husband and i will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary tomorrow by restating our vows. we are also taking a second honeymoon — just the two of us for a whole week! – later this month.

    we’ve been through some very rough times (especially in the early years of parenting) but i’m happy to say that i really LOVE the story and the life that we are living now!!

    thanks again. i always enjoy your posts greatly.


  6. Bre

    What if I wrote a novel?
    What if I travelled alone?
    What if I got the Director position?
    What if I really put my self out there and felt connected to other women?
    What if I tried to mend the divisions in my family?

  7. Christina

    What if I really read and internalized my Bible every day?
    What if we turned off the TV for good?
    What if my husband and I had a date night every week?
    What if we were intentional about teaching our children the Word of God more consistently?
    What if we started some really fun and unique family traditions?

    This post was great to hear right now! Our family is going through a TON of tough transitions and is in limbo at the moment. My husband just started a new job and is living 2 hours away from me and our three kids (ages 3, almost 2, and 9 weeks). And we are staying with my parents while we wait for our house to sell in another state! WHEW!!!! What has been a hard situation is starting to look more like a time of huge blessing as we are realizing that we need to use this time to look at what we want our family life to be like once we get back under the same roof. We’re just starting some brainstorming and deep talking and searching the Scriptures for ideas of what we want out family story to be. How appropriate!

    Sidenote: Is it the same Donald Miller who wrote “Blue Like Jazz”?

    • Corey

      Yes, his latest book is about his journey since he wrote Blue Like Jazz. I would say his newest book is even better than Blue Like Jazz.

  8. Jessica

    What if we really made a decision to live God’s adventure for us?
    What if I was more like Mary than Martha?
    What if my hubby and I had sex every night?
    What if we did plan an income cap so that we could give more?
    What if something I love could turn into a means of income?

  9. Dionna

    I love this article and I love the picture image it gives me of living my life within a story.

  10. Keya

    Thanks Corey for bring this information to our attention. I have to admit about a year and a half ago I asked my self the “what ifs” (although not in this same format) and life got so much better for me and for my family. But hey – there is always room for improvement – right?
    1. What if I didn’t try to control things so much and just enjoyed where Life took me?
    2. What if I let my children make more of their own decisions?
    3. What if I took a real maternity leave this time around?
    4. What if we sold our gas burning Armada? and got something more efficent.
    5. What if I committed to a spiritual practice?

  11. Danielle

    What if we both stayed home?
    What if I really was able to focus on my making?
    What if I wrote a book?
    What if we bought a home?
    What if we moved abroad, again?

  12. Sugar

    I feel like I am living a limbo life right now so this post really spoke to me.
    What if we just decided to start a family!?
    What if I got a job that I loved?
    What if I found satisfaction outside of my job?
    What if I started volunteering?
    What if we moved to another country?

  13. Tina

    What if I prayed more than once a day?
    What if I encouraged my children to travel more?
    What if I could tune out my mind and just relax more?
    What if we took a spur of the moment trip to the mountains?
    What if we entertained our friends more often?

  14. gray

    what if i started my own business?
    what if i woke up an hour before my family for meditation?
    what if i tried backpacking/camping with a toddler?
    what if i made time to really connect with my women friends?
    what if i painted every day?

  15. Kim

    What if I just went and worked in my studio – instead of thinking & fretting about it?
    What if I kept a journal/sketchbook of all my ideas?
    What if I wasn’t so frightened that something bad was going to happen to my children?
    What if I found some friends that ‘get’ me?
    What if I could just BE without over-thinking every little thing?

  16. Laine

    I love this post! Over the past few years I’ve adopted the mentality that you regret the things you don’t do in life more than the things you do. So, over the past 2 years my husband and I have gotten married, bought a rehabber, had a baby, and adopted a dog. Our families think we have lost our minds, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Now, my five “What Ifs”:

    1. What if we started our own business (instead of just talking about it)?
    2. What if we moved abroad?
    3. What if we homeschooled (although, this one is a ways off for us)?
    4. What if I went back to school?
    5. What if I finished my father’s book he never had a chance to complete?

    • Corey

      I absolutely love #5 Laine. That would make for a cool experience.

  17. Elizabeth

    Love this post! The exercise was fun. Just writing the list really made me take note of how I might be letting fear limit me. My five:
    What if I had another baby?
    What if I had more time to write?
    What if I wasn’t afraid what others thought of me?
    What if I wasn’t so tired?
    What if I had an adventure?

  18. Daisy

    fabulous metaphor — resonates a lot with me now on 2 levels – i’m rewriting my personal story as we speak, and I am learning all I can about fiction story structure because I’d like to pursue some writing on my own. It’s worthwhile to invent a few fictional chacters as a hobby even if you aren’t a writer. I am recognizing my own flaws or tensions reflected in my characters, so it becomes a sort of ongoing conversation with myself. Opposite of sublimating 😉

  19. Tricia

    1. What if my husband and I planned a big celebration for our 10th Wedding Anniversary next month and didn’t fret at all about whether or not our plans mattered one bit to anyone else? 2.What if I stopped just dreaming and started doing? 3.What if I made loving the life I live a higher priority instead of always trying to make it so much better (so that I would really love it then)? 4. What if I stepped out on a limb and really gave my photography a chance? 5. What if I embraced the fact that by beautiful daughters are growing so quickly and stopped worrying and mourning over it?

    I didn’t know if I would be able to write 5. Now I think that I could write 20. Thank you for this post.

  20. Ivy

    This a really great post. It’s not often you read a post with homework… Thank you though! This just might be the post I needed tonight.

    What if I put me first for just an hour a day?
    What if I stopped beating myself up for every mistake and just moved forward to find the new me waiting in the wings?
    What if I asked for help just once?
    What if I I lived like no one else was watching me?
    What if I just throw all caution to the wind for one weekend?

  21. coleen

    what if dh changed jobs? what if i started a sponsorship for orphans? what if we turned off our computers after dinner? what if we went away, sans kids? what if we really committed to our weekly date night and actually went out?

  22. Chris

    Such great reminders about living our own stories.

    My husband and I recently answered a what if question for ourselves – “What if we moved (Texas to Washington)?” Ultimately the answer was that we would stay here, but it set us into that frame of mind, remembering that we have control in our lives. We have the option to CHOOSE! There are always going to be consequences to our choices, but if we write off the question before considering those consequences, when do you get around to living?

    Having answered the big “what if,” we’ve moved on to the various “what if” scenarios involved in staying here. When you start looking at life as a series of options, choices, and decisions, you suddenly have more opportunities than you realized!

  23. hyperactivelu

    Oh wow! This is thought provoking! Good blog post!!! Gotta think about this one!

  24. Daisy

    Ran across this e.e. cummings quote and just had to comment one more time, since it speaks directly to the theme of this post: “It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.”
    – e. e. cummings

    P.S. I’ve loved looking at everyone’s what-ifs!

  25. Elisa | blissfulE

    What if we had more children?
    What if I learned to play the cello?
    What if I started a business?
    What if we went camping?
    What if we took a year off work?

  26. Rae Grant

    I love this optimistic post, and all its references, because it encourages us all to practice the fine art of dreaming….if we grown ups dream about our lives and possibilities then our kids will learn that skill as well …thanks Corey.

  27. Heather

    What if I worried less and trusted more?

    What if stopped feeling guilt and allowed myself to feel grace?

    What if I stopped living in the past and just lived for today?

    What if I acted as if Jesus was standing next to me?

    What if I completely just let go of it all, and handed it over to God?

  28. Kathy

    What if we downsized and moved close to family? What if we foster parented a child? What if we got involved with our neighbors? What if we tried to help our neighbor’s troubled kid? What if we got more involved at church? What if……?

  29. Rachel

    What if we got rid of our TV?
    What if we paid more attention to where our money was going?
    What if we took more spontaneous trips?
    What if we decided not to move and made our house more like we want it?
    What if we stopped living with anxiety about so many things?

  30. G.

    What if we moved to another town or a small village?
    What if we moved abroad?
    What if I started teaching crochet and craft?
    What if I didn’t care about what people think anymore and just lived my life the way I want to live it?
    What if I joined a volunteer program to mentor a teenager for a year?

  31. Crystal

    Today was the right time for me to read this – and to order the book from the library.

    What if we entertained once a month?
    What if our basement was cleaned out?
    What if I created for 1 hour every day?
    What if I lost 30 lbs.?
    What if our debt was paid off?

    Thanks for the challenge.

  32. Kamille (from Evangitality)

    Corey thank you for this article/post. I am devout about the role of story(ies) and how they play out in our day to day life. I liked what you did by using the model of story to bring it to the forefront of who I am as a person.

    My five questions:
    What if I started a catering/baking business? What if I became an advocate for children’s ministry? What if we adopted our third child, instead of birthed? What if I got involved in the local storyteller’s guild? What if I began running?

  33. Darcy

    I have been feeling this way for a while, like something huge is missing from my life. When I was young I had BIG dreams and goals and was frantically working towards them, but somehow the responsibilites that come with age took over and the dreams got set aside. Thank you so much for inspiring me to live the best life possible, to have a interesting story to tell, and to find my dreams again. I feel like I am reinventing myself all over again.

    What if I went back to school and finished my degree?
    What if I started dancing again or playing piano again?
    What if I trained for a triathalon?
    What if I traveled the world or lived abroad?
    What if we stopped moving, called this home, and finally made friends?

  34. Tammy

    What if I truly began chipping away at the novel that I’ve dreamed of writing?
    What if I slowed down in my day to grow closer to God more intentionally?
    What if we began another business to see how God might grow it?
    What if we were debt-free?
    What if I was using my gifts to their maximum?

  35. Jamie

    W-O-W! And thank you! I had seen this briefly when you originally posted but I was sooooo crazy busy this is the first chance I had to find it & read it.
    1.) What if we get divorced?
    2.) What if we get counseling to find solutions to our problems & not divorce?
    3.) What if I focus on completing a work-from-home job. Just one. One of the many great ideas.
    4.) What if you just recognize the truth about who you’ve become?
    5.) What if I could not ever lose my temper again?

  36. Kasmin boswell-Delgado

    What if I vowed to no longer “what if anymore” and instead invested my time, choices and decisions intentionally purposing.

    With that in mind….I will 7/13/10 and onward:
    Purpose to remain forever free of people pleasing.
    Purpose to remain committed & live my life story as a love note of inspiration, triumph & unconditional love for and to God.
    Purpose to “be” strategic, confident, courageous & phenomenal in all forthcoming “doing.”
    Purpose to nurture the relationships which truly matter and re-position the lagging ones.
    Purpose to be intentional in calling people to their greatness, without regard to my comfort.

  37. Lindsay

    Wow, i love this article. I’d love to tape it to my mirror so I can remind myself to live my own story continually, every day. Thanks! I’m still working on my what-ifs!

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