Why Bother with Stories?
A Brief Exhortation to Read Novels
I’ve always loved a good story. I was the girl with the flashlight under the covers furtively reading past her bedtime. I was the teenager saving her babysitting money so she could buy the next novel in her favorite series. I was the college student diving deep into literature asking the hard questions and trying to understand the mechanics of storytelling.
Not everyone shares my passion, and that’s okay! If someone prefers history or travel writing or self-help or some other form of nonfiction, that’s totally acceptable, and I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. However . . . I would like to suggest that novels—specifically novels—have a unique ability to touch and spark change in people in ways that nonfiction is limited. They do so in three ways:
1. Stories activate the imagination.
At first pass this isn’t specific to novels. After all, a good wordsmith should seek to engage the reader no matter the genre. However, novels are not limited by factual events or even the constraints of science! Even historical fiction is not bound to the realms of what we concretely know but instead employs imagination to fill in the cracks. As a result, novels engage readers’ imaginations in a way that nonfiction is limited. Novels not only ask us to see, taste, and smell, but to imagine “what if.”
2. Stories reach a wide range of people.
Not everyone is going to pick up a history tome, travel guide, or parenting book. Usually, when picking up a nonfiction book, the readers’ interest is already geared toward that topic as they try to find an answer, expand their understanding, or seek encouragement. Novels, on the other hand, can be somewhat of a Trojan horse in all the best ways. I’m not suggesting novelists should come at readers with an agenda. An artful story, however, does encompass numerous topics that, if isolated on their own, a reader might not gravitate toward but because they’re presented in a story, the reader is now exposed to.
3. Stories put flesh and blood on principles.
Evil is made tangible when we see the inner workings of a villain. Our prejudices are challenged when the outsider is humanized. Stories peel back the layers of a person, doing a deep dive into what makes them tick, causing abstract principles to come to life. And whereas a compelling biography might accomplish much the same, it typically focuses on one person whereas a novel gives you a whole cast of characters and the nuances of how they interact with one another.
Not Just Entertainment
Jesus knew the impact stories could have and often employed them in teaching. His stories (or parables) touched listeners from all backgrounds as He presented real-world situations that they could relate to. In His stories, Jesus required His listeners to engage in imagination-led compassion as they placed themselves within the scenario. Couched within these enduring stories were truths that had the potential to spark true and lasting change. Stories today, although not inspired, certainly still have the potential to spark change in others. Stretching beyond entertainment, stories drive straight to the heart, peeling back the facades we so often throw up as humans. In diving deep into characters both like and unlike us, stories challenge our preconceptions, bridge differences, and build rapport. We should bother with stories because in stirring our imaginations and rousing our affections, they have a way of lingering with us—and we tend to remember what lingers.
For Further Reading
If the intersection of story and faith is something that interests you, consider checking out the following resources: