The Power of Story by Josh Olds
They’re just words.
That’s the biggest understatement I’ve ever heard. Just words…that’s like saying someone is just human. Like words don’t have power. Like Story isn’t a means of revolution. Like life isn’t poetry lived out in the flesh.
It’s absurd because life is story. And when we flimsy humans settle in as Storytellers and create our own universes with words and ideas and paragraphs and paradigms, we flip the mantra. Life is Story…but Story is Life. To engage with Story is to engage with the thoughts and ideas and themes confronting those fictional characters, to discover a life we probably wouldn’t be able to explore anywhere else, and to open ourselves to being changed by the narratives we encounter.
The best teachers are those who teach in Story. There was a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth especially good at it and he confirmed the message of the parables he told through the Story of his life. That’s not to say that all Storytellers make teaching a moral or lesson the primary objective of their story. In fact, writers that do that often end up with stories that suck. The message has to come out naturally from the narrative. It has to be imbedded into the story as the background theme, just as one’s worldview runs as the background framework to one’s life. And just like one’s worldview, the message of a story manifests itself even if the author’s not paying attention.
For those of us who are Storytellers, this imposes upon us a solemn responsibility. We are the leaders of an exploration. We are the creators of a drama or a thriller or a mystery or a romance or any other type of novel that inevitably reflects something of life. Even if we write just to entertain, our writing has a message. Readers follow us into the world we’ve created and—if we’ve done our job well—become the characters we’ve created. They feel the tensions and the questions and the elations and the sorrow and the pure emotion of the Story. Story has the power to change people. It can give them a fresh perspective, take them to extremes that reality will not allow, offer them new experiences, challenge their thinking, or upset the status quo. Stories take facts or statements or questions and present them in the context of life, even if it be fictional. Which sentence below holds more power?
Statement: As many as one in four girls will be sexually abused before age 18.
Story: Eight year old Jenna learns in Sunday School that God is a Father, but is he like Jenna’s father who molests her every night?
Didactic teaching can give a clear and true message but it takes a Story to get to the heart of the matter and pull at the reader’s heart as well. The fact we as Storytellers can make a few abstract marks on a page and potentially leave such an impression on those who read it is almost magical. Story is power and as such the Storyteller should wield it with responsibility. So go, tell your story, entertain those readers, change those lives, start a revolution. The world belongs to the Storyteller.
EV: I’ve known Josh for a few years, and I asked him to write a post about something he’s passionate about, about story. His website is Lifeisstory.com, and there he reviews books and goes a little deeper than the cursory…he explores them fully. What’s amazing about story is that, like he said, they truly can make a difference to a people, a society, a generation. A story really can start a revolution of the soul, and that is a gift. Writers have influence, and that’s so freaking cool. So, I’ll let Josh be Morpheus, I’ll be Neo (because bending backward like a supafreak is awesome and stopping bullets with his hand is just so legit), and um…you can be Trinity. Hey, she is kinda Bad-A if you think about it. Go start a revolution on the page, like, now. And thanks, Josh, for dropping in and feeding us some wisdom.
facebook: we are arson
Josh Olds mini-bio:
Josh Olds is a student of Story, a character in the narrative of Life, and a creator of his own stories. Some call him the Madman. You can find him prowling about at Facebook (facebook.com/lifeisstoryreviews), Twitter (@JoshOlds), and even (God help him) Pinterest (pinterest.com/lifeisstory).