Storytelling is Serious Business


This morning, my work required a small trip to meet with one of my staff. I turned on the local sports talk radio which was broadcasting the Colin Cowherd show.

Colin is a bit of a jerk. Okay, not kinda, he is one. He makes fun of losers, hates “fly over country,” and basically shows his behind on a daily basis. But, today, he said something I’ve heard too many times from friends and my Christian friends as well.

Allow me to quote:

“I’m a serious guy. I’m not frivolous.  I don’t do fiction. I don’t read fiction. It’s all frivolousness. I like tasks, accomplishing something and solving problems.”

Now, I can dismiss Colin most of the time, but this one got under my skin. Not because he said it, but because I think many people believe this statement, even though they consume stories by the truckload. They look at fiction and fiction writing as somehow throwaway and unnecessary. Stories, movies, etc are great for a distraction, but they’re not really needed for “real life.”

I respectfully beg to differ.

Stephen King once wrote that people pay him to play for them. People buy his books because they need a “play” outlet for their daily lives. They need the relief. They need to let their mind recharge by wandering. And, this play, this relief, helps them process their own lives though diverting the brain to true humanity.

Play is a huge part of our life and storytelling is a vital part of play.  My youngest son has a world built around the city of “San DeMato” and the country of “Quintus.”  The coolest part? The baseball team is called the San DeMato Fire Dodgers.

I want the jersey.

Anyway, when my son, or any of us, make up stories, it is a way for us to figure out life. This is why I’ve dedicated my life to fiction writing and want people to read my books. It’s why my fellow writers labor, write, cry, ball up in the corner and then dance around elated when the story finally works. I admit, we’re all a bit nuts, but that’s because you pay us to play. You pay us to help process the inner workings of your life. You pay us to help inspire you, make you cry and make you laugh as you use our stories to reflect on your own life.

My fellow writers work very hard to make this happen. Very hard. We have to access the deepest part of our selves, the areas most people avoid. We have to work long hours with very little pay. All the while people think we do nothing, don’t work and generally goof off. Instead, what we really do, is provide serious play for you and give you a vital part of what you need to be fully human.

Storytelling is vital to the very core of our lives. Why do you think people flock to movies? Why do you think people watch TV? Or read books? Is it because they’re lazy? Maybe in some cases. And, sometimes, being lazy is okay. It’s restful. However, it’s more than that. People search out stories, hungry for them, devour them, because they’re looking for the story of their own lives.

Why do you think God gave us a giant storybook to speak to us? Did you ever wonder about that? I think some people would prefer “The Almighty’s Book to life: Get Hired. Get Laid. Get Spiritual; How to be Healthy in Seven (the divine number, get it?) Steps.”

He didn’t. He gave us a story; the story of how He rescues us.

This is why stories and the producing of stories is so important. They bypass our defenses, make us think in new ways and help us to understand our lives in ways no owner’s manual ever could.

Do people get ridiculous about their love of fiction stories? Sure. But, no more ridiculous than people who paint their chest on a cold Saturday for football. No more ridiculous than business people who tailor their whole lives around power and the art of the deal. Because, you see, the author of Ecclesiastes tells us that “Breath, Breath, everything is a breath, a vapor, passing.”

And then later this unknown author tells us, “Nothing left but to enjoy your work under the sun, love God and keep His commandments.” (paraphrase, mine).

In this, The Teacher is telling us all of life is a vain pursuit, and that includes: business, kingdom building, etc. In the end, all that matters is the story we find ourselves in, God’s story, the story that inspires all stories. Hard working storytellers reflect this in stories that might be “fiction” in one sense, but reflect the deep truth of life in the other.

So, for all of you who take pride in “not reading fiction” because you’re “serious”, I respectfully ask you to reconsider the idea you might be emotionally stunted. In fact, you’re not as serious as you claim to be. If you use a theological excuse, even worse. Try reading some fiction. You might find more truths there than in your systematic theologies or in your “serious” life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to a San DeMato Fire Dodgers game.

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About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015