Friday, July 8, 2016

Why There's No Such Thing As "Just A Story"

"It's just a story."

There's a phrase that never ceases to bother me. I've heard it used in several different contexts, all of them absurd.

"Oh, don't get so worked up over the bad messages in that novel. It's just a story."

"I don't know if being a writer is the right choice. What difference will I be able to make? After all, they're just stories."

"Don't worry so much about how people interpret your writing. It's just a story."

I've always found that phrase odd. It's an accumulation of absurdities, ignorance, and thoughtlessness. "It's just a story." Since when did we start telling ourselves such problematic mistruths?
Words have a way of sticking with us. We remember compliments we've received from loved ones many years ago, and have no end of trouble forgetting the hurtful things said to us when we were young. We draw strength from scriptures and are motivated by song lyrics.

Through words, men have been inspired to fly halfway across the world to minister to people they have never met. Because of words, men have been whipped into a frenzy and slaughtered those they had no true quarrel with.

It only makes sense that words, when put into the form of stories, are just as powerful as conversations or speeches. Perhaps even more so.

How many times have you read a novel and been forced to sit back and think about the world in a way you never would have otherwise?

How many times has the story of one person's courage or faith inspired the same feelings in you?

How many times has a story changed your life?

For me, the answer to these questions is the same: Many times. 1984 made me think about my freewill and ask myself how far I would be willing to go to preserve it. I draw strength from Samwise Gamgee's perseverance, am inspired by Remus's fight against a disease that threatened to overtake him, and am in awe of Liesel's hunger to use words to do beautiful things. The story of the King who gave his life for the entire world changed my life.

I look at this and it is clear to me that there is no such thing as "just a story."

Stories are many things, but they are not small and they are not meaningless. Stories have an immeasurable amount of sway over our lives, and this sway has grown even larger because people are no longer aware of it.

Because people are convinced that they are "just stories," they forget to be careful about what kinds of stories they are putting into the world or allowing into their minds.

Because they are just stories, authors no longer write their stories for a reason. They forget that novels can help shape the way people think. Shelves are full of books that were not meant to mean anything, and thus end up reflecting the hollowness and depravity of the world.

Because they are just stories, readers feel no need to be intentional about what kind of words and images they fill their minds with. They do not recognize how stories can lock into their hearts and change the direction of their thoughts.

Believing that stories are "just stories" does not take away their power. It simply causes people to forget that  the power is there, making it all the easier to misuse.

It's about time that people start being intentional about the kinds of stories that are told and listened to.

It's time that we drop the "just."

They are not just stories. They are stories. Tales of ourselves: of who we are and who we strive to be. Accounts of places real and imagined, of people beautiful and ugly, of thoughts noble and evil.

These stories make up the world. They are stories we replay for ourselves in our minds, which we call memories. They are bedtime tales that help us to be unafraid of the monsters under the bed. They are inspiring recollections of brave people, educational tellings of turning points in history. They are gospels that are people's salvation.

They are life.

That is not something to be taken lightly. And there is certainly no "just" about it.

Next time you sit down to write a story, I want you to stop and think about what it is that you are doing. You are creating something of power: you are weaving together truths and dreams and adventures that will take seed in somebody else's mind, possibly your own. You can nudge people into thinking and feeling deeply, or you can stop them from using their minds altogether. You can inspire them into courage and passion and selflessness, of you can let them stay in their comfort zone where they will never grow. You can create a story simply to entertain, or you can create a story that does far more than that.

It is up to you.

Will you treat your work as "just a story," or will you see it for what it is: something strong and powerful and capable of changing the minds and souls that it touches?

Related articles:
Challenging Writer's to Create Stories With Meaning
Challenging Creative Writers To Be More Creative
Be A Writer, Not An Author

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18 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Hannah! I've often noticed the hollowness in modern writing - maybe one day, the writers recognize it as well.

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    1. Thanks, Alena! I also hope that writers will be able to turn this current hollow trend around. I think we can do it if we put our minds to it. =)

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  2. Thank you so much, Hannah! You have me choked up. This is why I write. I use stories to impact lives. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going.

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    1. I'm so glad this impacted you, Kandi. I know why I write, but sometimes I need a little reminder. Thus, this post. I'm happy this helped encourage you, too.

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  3. A very interesting post. I haven't heard many people say things like this but I know that there's one person in my family who believes stories are just stories. That isn't true. What you write can have a major impact on someone's life.

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    1. Exactly. Our stories are so much more than what people may see at first glance. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. This hit home. Amazing post! It's something everyone should read and realize. It has definitely inspired to me take a look at my WIP and make sure it's got meaning to it and that it is saying something about the world.

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    1. That is so good to hear, Rebecca! I'm constantly going back and making sure that my stories have something important to say. It takes a lot of time and concentration, but it's worth it. I'm sure your WIP will turn out amazing because you are approaching it thoughtfully.

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  5. That was such a great post!
    It makes me stop and think about all the best stories that I will never forget. I pride myself for reading many, many books in my lifetime so far but a lot of the books I've read I've forgotten about.
    Books like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Beyonders, and The Hunger Games are the ones that stuck with me and taught me something.
    Thanks for such an eye-opening post!

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    1. I'm happy to hear that you got something out of this post! Like you, I have read many books, but only a few have really stood out to me. LOTR and Narnia are among those stories. I've never read The Beyonders. I'll have to check it out. Thank you for the great comment!

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  6. Wow Hannah! This is one of your very best posts! It is so beautiful and impactful. Thank you for refocusing my eyes on what stories truly are.

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    1. Thank you so much, Reigha! I knew you would enjoy this post and am glad it helped. I'm sure your stories will turn out beautifully.

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  7. People are just stories too, Hannah - and just like what we read, some are better put together, more meaningful & inspiring than others. And writers are just people... I wish more of them would read and heed your advice :) Nicely said.

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    1. 'People are just stories, too." I love this comment, Ramona. I like to think that everything around us is made up of words and stories in one way or another. It's fun to meet other people who see that, too.

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  8. Wow...I stumbled across your blog last nigt on Pinterest, and I've been reading your articles this morning. I'm a Christian who hasn't really written anything for a couple of years, since middle school. Exactly a year ago I was given a title and a story idea in a sermon, and I've struggled with coming up with a plot all this time. Yet...after reading this....I want to write...I love your blog! Keep it up!!

    PS I simply adore your name. ;)

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    1. This makes me so happy to read, Hannah! I love it when people feel the desire to write. Great things come of that feeling. Thanks for the comment!

      P.S. I think your name is pretty awesome, too.

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  9. I want to share this across the entire globe. YES AND YES. <3

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    1. Aw, thank you Brianna! Glad it spoke to you!

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