I glanced up, caught sight of my brother’s body floating facedown in the deep end. I threw open my window, and slammed into the screen. I punched and tore and kicked my way through, rolling out onto the roof and stumbling towards the edge, the shingles slicing holes in my knees and elbows. My boots caught the gutter and ripped it from the house, and I jumped.
The above story belongs to a young man desperately seeking truth and redemption. It takes place after his return home to face his family and a tragedy they held him responsible for.
His name is Nathan, and like the rest of us, he’s made plenty of mistakes. His story is a powerful one of forgiveness and second chances. Much like your story. Much like mine.
The only difference between our stories and Nathan’s is his story is entirely fictional. However, it's true, nonetheless.
How can this be? How can we find meaning in made-up stories?
The fact is fiction is often closer to the truth than what surrounds us on a daily basis.
Every day, we lie to ourselves to avoid facing the discomfort of our anxiety, hurt, and betrayal (just to name a few feelings).
But the art of storytelling can bring those feelings front and center, forcing us to face them and deal with the truth. In other words, stories help us live again.
Fiction teaches us about our own stories
Nathan is the hero of his story. Just as I am the hero of mine. And you are the hero of yours.
But I am also the villain of another story. Perhaps many stories. For I’ve broken hearts, lied, cheated, intentionally harmed, and said “no” to commitments when the cost was high.
And if you’re guilty of those acts, you've been the villain, too.
Everyone in Nathan's life — in their stories — views him as the villain. But his villain, the opposition in his story, is lust.
For some of us, our villains are our fathers, mothers, bullies, alcohol, or even our friends.
Anything that keeps you from being who you were made to be is a villain. It's opposition. Resistance.
And you must fight it with everything have.
The importance of using broken people
“You write a lot on damaged and dysfunctional people,” one critic pointed out after reading the short story featuring Nathan. He wanted to know what appeals to me in that sort of storytelling.
“I write what I know,” I told him.
Life is ugly. Life is broken. And therein lies its beauty. We live in a fallen world where redemption lies in being broken. That's why I write about it.
The best stories are full of darkness. Take a look at the Bible, for example. The most religious book in our culture is full of rape, murder, incest, betrayal, sex, adultery, violence, and war. And in the end, through all of that, someone trades his life to save the lives of many. No wonder it still leaves such an impact.
Great stories need darkness. Because it obscures beauty. Sometimes, we need to dive into the darkness to find the beauty life has to offer. That’s where the adventure awaits.
If all art was safe and clean, we'd never see the light. We’d never be saved, never be redeemed.
I tell stories in an attempt to reach the broken, the defeated, and the hopeless. I want to connect with the lost. Because at one point or another, we’ve all been lost.
The power of stories
Storytelling is the most powerful way I know to convey a cause, spread an idea, or inspire hope.
We all know this. You mention Homer and The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, or — God help us — Twilight, and people immediately know what you are talking about. You're talking about story. Stories that have and will live on forever.
Those stories made us feel. We relate to the journey of The Odyssey, the helpless infatuation of teenage love in Romeo and Juliet, or the reminder Edward gives us that being seventeen forever has its drawbacks.
Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Our lives are the greatest stories ever told.
We make those around us feel every single day. We excite them and bore them. We make them angry or make their day. We have the power to change, to inspire, and to destroy.
The power of story lies within us
We live in a culture saturated with social media where everyone has the ability to pick up a megaphone and shout.
Bloggers are the modern-day storytellers in the likes of Hemingway, Poe, and Kerouac. But far too often, we storytellers play it safe.
Very few of us are telling stories, let alone personal accounts. Instead our readers are drowning in statistics and self-help.
We need more stories.
And if you don’t think you have one, make no mistake: If you’re living, breathing, and reading this right now, you have a story to tell.
I found success when I started sharing mine.
I told my story. And Nathan’s. And so many others.
It’s time for you to tell yours.
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What do you think fiction and creative storytelling can teach us about life and truth? Share in the comments.
*Photo credit: smlp.co.uk (Creative Commons)