Why do we tell stories? Why do I write stories? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to write a book about love, God and forgiveness than to write a book like The Shack? Isn’t it easier for all of us to just shout our beliefs at each other instead of sharing our stories with each other?
Maybe so. But easier doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Let me explain.
In some respects, nonfiction is easier than fiction because the rules are so laid down. You’re dealing with arguments. You’re usually trying to convince somebody of a fact. You’re trying to get somebody else’s space to match yours. It’s a reduction of space.
Stories don’t do that—not good stories, anyway. When stories are about reducing space, they become propaganda and they’re not truly creative. Good fiction actually creates more space than it uses up.
The question with story becomes: What do you hear? What do you see inside the space that’s been created by this story? How did it speak to you?
That’s the real power of story. It has a respect for the listener or reader. It says, “You can hear. You have a tuning fork inside of you. You have the ability to hear the Holy Spirit.” I trust that.
C.S. Lewis said stories have a way of slipping past what he called our “watchful dragons.” We have these guards on our brains that stand between the head and the heart, and they judge everything that tries to integrate them. Story has a way of sneaking through. A lot of times, it will slip into our heart and we will see something or feel something before our head has the ability to engage. Once the head engages, then we’re into a whole different kind of agenda-driven landscape.
Just think about Jesus, and how often he told stories. Sure, he told people to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but he also talked about a man robbed in the streets and rescued by a Samaritan. He talked about a boy who ran away from home and the father who loved him too much to give up on him. Jesus knew these stories would resonate with his listeners.
And here’s why: Every human being has a story. And that’s why story can penetrate us in a way that nonfiction can’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I love nonfiction. I love theology and philosophy. I have a lot of friends who write excellent nonfiction. Many of them are academics, and the language they use is very precise because, with nonfiction, you need to maintain control of their argument. There’s a place for that.
But with fiction, you lose control. The interpretation becomes less about what I intend and more about what people hear. I have to be OK with that. Anyone who shares their story has to be OK with that.
So tell me, what are some your favorite stories? What stories have helped teach you important truths?
How has your own personal life story been used to change the lives of others?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. (And be sure to give your email at the bottom of this page, if you haven’t already, and we’ll keep you up to date on our unfolding conversation.)