Three Storytellers No One Even Thinks About

You all probably know by now that I overthink and philosophize about things. Some weeks ago I was in the car feeling bored, and I started thinking about a few examples of good storytelling that are all around us, even though we don’t recognize them as such. And I can tell you, it was an interesting list- such that I had to write a post.

Here we go: three examples of good storytelling that no one even thinks about.

The Geico Fast-Forward Ads

If you have ever watched a video on YouTube, you may have seen one of these. For example:

Uh-huh. Now you have to click on that link and find out what happened, don’t you? This is the genius of Geico. If they had played the whole ad (which, let’s face it, is pretty stupid), you would just be annoyed that Geico would dare to come between you and your Blimey Cow. But, by fast-forwarding to a bewildering end shot, Geico reels you in. What happened in between? You have to know, so you watch the full ad (and hopefully switch to save 15% on insurance).

Likewise, writers only have six different plots or so, and we need to give readers a reason to care about a “predictable” story. People know that the young farm boy will save the princess from the dark lord, or that the band will slay the dragon and get the gold, or that the hero will make a huge sacrifice to defeat the villain. What they don’t know is what happens to the characters along the way. That’s where we come in: we make people curious about the whole journey, not just the happy (or tragic) ending.

What If Cartoons Got Saved? by Chris Rice

Chris Rice as a songwriter is a genius. Each one of his songs captures a facet of the Christian life in beautiful color and mind-blowing perspectives. Seriously, even secular songwriters can learn from his music: for example, his moving Christmas song and “Go Light Your World.”

But, ages a few years ago, Chris Rice wrote a lively song with a comical premise: what if cartoon characters became Christians?

Now that we’ve had our chuckle for the day… what can we learn from Chris Rice? In each of his songs, particularly this one, he chooses a counter-intuitive way to make his point. He uses a downright strange idea to teach a good lesson: it’s our job to praise God, and there’s a good reason for that. Worship is a theme which songwriters have emphasized for centuries, from the Doxology to “Oh Praise Him,” but Chris Rice engaged an old audience in a new way, making them laugh even as they look at worship from a different angle.

Likewise, writers need to use their crazy ideas. Let’s face it… our brains are not normal, and our imaginations are frighteningly overactive. Most of what we invent is insanity that never makes it to the page. But why not use some of that insanity? Look for the potential in even the craziest of ideas, and who knows? You might end up using Smurfs to bring glory to God.

Calvin and Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes has been popular with our family lately, even more so than The Peanuts, and it’s easy to see why. Meet Calvin, a six-year-old INTP with a curious perspective on the world, and his tiger-friend Hobbes (did you get the reference?). They invent transmogrifiers and build monstrous snowmen just to mess with Dad’s head. Through the antics of these two companions, Watterson blurts out realities of life, asks tough questions, gets people to be honest about their doubts, and even pokes fun at Marxist philosophy.

The thing writers can learn from Calvin and Watterson alike is to look at the world through a child’s eyes. Isn’t this the very essence of storytelling? It’s our job to tell things as they are, but with a spin or some new lesson that makes readers think differently about the world we live in. Rarely do people ever stop and ask, “Why is this the way it is? What if it was different?” Asking the important questions is not only the job of the child or the genius, but also the writer. So let’s do our job.

Happy writing.

Why Write?

“The written word is a powerful thing, you have to be careful with it.” –Inkheart

I am a Christian. I am an INTJ. I am also a writer. It’s a very simple formula for all sorts of fantastical novels. Or for revolution, come to think of it. 

But, of all the things I could do, why do I write? From an outside view, all I do is sit in a chair and type word after word after word about fake people and the feats they never really did, and I drink a lot of coffee in the process. That seems insignificant. Yet, if you asked me what I would regret if I died today, one of my first responses would be, “I wish I had finished my books first.” Why is writing so important to me?

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Writing itself just looks pretty. (image credit)

Well, for one thing, I am naturally introspective, and I love writing for creativity’s sake. God blessed me with a severely overactive imagination and a mind that constantly asks, “What if?” I have to answer those questions. I spend a good deal of time inside my own head and dig into those questions, making up my own worlds. Mine is an imagination that is set afire by one single image- resolute castle gates weathered and rough from ancient battles, purple lakes frozen over with glowing whiteness. It strikes me, and I have to write it.

For another thing, I love writing for language’s sake. For all my introspection and thinking, some of it is bound to spill out, and while I’m no virtuoso at crafting imagery out of spoken words, I can build anything with a pen and paper. I can’t tell it to you, but I can write it for you. Writing is like constructing a Gothic cathedral, for you have to learn all the mechanics and the rhetoric, then you must take a grand idea and build a strong-standing structure out of it, and finally you must make it ornate and color it with stained glass. I do love a good challenge.

For the most part, though, an INTJ writes because of the nature of writing itself, because the pen really is mightier than the sword. Harriet Beecher Stowe created an avalanche with her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opening the eyes of a nation to the evils of slavery. Upon meeting Stowe, Abe Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who started this big war.” Again, long before the bloody wars against communism broke out, Marx wrote a book that attacked capitalism and everyone who possessed more than someone else. That book sparked revolutions all over the world, and we still suffer repercussions of that today. One German book- and it led to warfare across the Pacific and Atlantic.

Let me ask you something: why has every totalitarian regime in the last century started with banning books? Why are the historians, philosophers, and writers always the first to go? Why does the government desire to control the press? I’ll tell you why- people who hate the truth necessarily hate writing. They hate that ideas can be recorded and handed out for all the world to see and consider. They especially hate the Bible.

Oh, yes, the Bible is at the top of the list here. You should have known Christianity would make its way into any of my posts on truth and life purpose. Ho and hum and beat around the bush as long as you like, but you cannot erase the fact that whenever philosophers and writers are taken away, the Bible is taken away with it. That has got to count for something. People who try to take away the Bible don’t hate do-good-er morality or legalism (which aren’t actually in the Bible), nor even the inspiring stories and scientific truths (which are actually in the Bible). Enemies of freedom, of love, really of anything good will always hate the life-changing message of the Gospel, and that is because it is true and challenging. Everyone who reads and believes it is commissioned to share it, and it spreads like a wildfire. Take away that rudder of truth, and you can wreak all manner of havoc on everything good in the world.

I am an INTJ, and that means I want the truth. I am a Christian, and that means I am commissioned to share the truth. I am a writer, and that means that I will share the truth. Writing is one way that I do my life’s work: a plain yet beautiful, simple yet complex, tiny yet powerful weapon, the pen is a spark that starts a worldwide fire. It is a tool to change the world, and no one will ever stop me from doing that.

“There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” –The Two Towers

Now you tell me- why do you write?