Everyone loves a good story. Including and most especially me, which is why I’m in an MFA program for screenwriting. One of the first things I’ve learned is that stories do not work without this thing called conflict. And it turns out that this is one of the hardest things to write. Why? Because it’s hard to live conflict. We are all conflict averse.
For instance, I want dinner, but I don’t want to go through the effort of cooking. It would involve figuring out what to cook, then how to manage without the ingredients I’ll inevitably find missing, or figure out when and how to get them, then struggle with a too-dull knife, or a too-small container, and a stove that doesn’t seem to understand the word “broil.” And when I’ve finally, finally had my meal, I’ll have to clean everything up again, or suffer the wrath of mistreated roommates who find themselves dealing with messes they didn’t make.
Or I could just step outside and pay seven bucks for a burrito. What a boring story. If you were forced to watch one or the other, which one sounds more interesting? Which one might give me, the character, a chance to learn something?
But that’s just a trivial example. What about the harder stuff you might be going through? What if you were robbed, or abused? What if you are chronically ill and unable sustain yourself or your family? What if you encounter some calamity, and find yourself homeless and alone?
Why do bad things happen to good people? After all, they do, every day, every hour. The Book of Mormon teaches that “there must needs be opposition in all things,” (2 Nephi 2:11), and I think that’s why we tell each other stories. In every story, characters face opposition and make choices, and if it’s a good story, someone learns something.
One of the leaders of our church, Elder Quentin Cook, recently spoke about this subject in a talk called “The Songs They Could Not Sing.” In it, he describes mortal life as the second act in a three-act play. The third act is the one in which things get resolved, and all the conflict pays off, but until we finish our mortal experience, we’re stuck in the second act. I believe that God is the writer of our lives, but it’s up to each of us to decide what kind of character we’ll be. In other words, when we’re faced with conflict, the “bad things” in life, the choices we make will ultimately determine what happens in the third act.