What Makes A Good Story?

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One of the gifts we sometimes take for granted is the gift of reading. Many people around the world never have a chance to learn to read or get the experience of holding a book in their hands as a story unfolds page by page. There are some people who are not exposed to reading in childhood on the laps of people who love to read to them the most fascinating stories (complete with different voices and sound effects). Those lucky ones develop a love of books before they ever enter school.

Sadly, many of those who don’t have that experience don’t grow up with a desire to read the stories themselves and reading becomes just another subject and skill they must learn in school. I was lucky. I grew up loving stories. First, I loved the ones that were read to me and then learning to read them for myself. Reading is still a favorite activity. Inside the pages of books, I not only expand what I know but also take adventures to places I have never visited and likely never well. I get glimpses of the thoughts, ideas, dreams, and life experiences of others as well. I am challenged and inspired and grow because of what I read.

During the years I was a teacher, I loved times when I might read something to my students and when I became a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor it was not uncommon for me to pull a book from my shelves to read a few lines that seemed to speak to where the person opposite me was sitting. It was surprising to me to discover adults in that chair who had never had anyone read to them.

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A favorite question often shared with several friends of mine when we meet for coffee, breakfast, or lunch is, “What are you reading?” It always leads into a fascinating conversation about the latest thing she has read, how it has impacted her, and often means I add another book to my list that I want to read. Some friends have very different tastes in reading, but I still enjoy the retelling of a book they are enjoying and how it is influencing them to look at something in a different way or give them a puzzle to solve.

Each of you may have a list of what makes a good story from your perspective. My list and yours might vary quite a lot and that’s okay. One of the things I look for and delight in is good character development no matter what genre I am reading or what movie I am watching. People are fascinating to me so that draws me in or causes me to close a book or distract myself in a movie before I get to the end. Another thing that never fails to grab me is what the author or script writer puts together words that offer me a good quote to enjoy, revisit and savor. (You often find them tucked into things I write here.) If it is really a book or movie I love, I will not read it only once or watch it just one time.

One of the things that draws me (and many others) back to rereading the Bible is that it is God’s story and an intriguing one at that. Each time I read it, I learn or see something I didn’t see during the other times I read it. Right now, I am back in the Old Testament with all those stories that captivate me (even though I have read them many times before). I am also rereading a book that was first gifted to me in 1997 that I hadn’t read for many years. It focuses on the life of Joseph whose life was full of twists and turns. That is one of the things we find in the entire Bible – character studies that tell the whole story (the good, the bad, and the ugly). It’s a contrast to stories we read in magazines, news media, and the like today where we usually only hear the best or the worst about someone or something.

“…the Bible reveals the good and the bad about its heroes. It is encouraging to know that we don’t need to be perfect to be wonderfully used by God.”

R.T. Kendall
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So, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation God’s story unfolds with characters who are ones we revere but not unlike us, are flawed. And the Bible lays out those parts too. We see liars like Abraham, Jacob, and others. We see Noah as the hero who was saved from the flood and built the ark but gets drunk later in an episode we don’t expect. The man after God’s own heart, King David, commits adultery with one of his top soldiers’ wives and then has the man killed in battle so he doesn’t find out. Jonah gets swallowed into the belly of a fish and who knows what that was like. He just couldn’t obey God’s directive to go to Nineveh. In the New Testament we see Peter getting in trouble time and time again and yet he is the disciple Jesus says he will build his church upon.

Each of these stories should give us hope that reaches into our own stories that are a mixture of things not unlike these. Too often we can be tempted to be critical of these characters we read about as if we would never have done what they did, but that should always jolt us to the truth that we likely would have done them. And whether we are heroes to anyone or not, we tend to edit our stories sharing only certain parts either because we still feel guilt and shame about the worst parts or we have shared them at some points and had others respond to us as if we are worse than we believed we were when those things happened, or we made those choices. The Bible from the beginning to the end shows us a God who is far more gracious and merciful than we are despite not removing the consequences of sin.

Just ask those biblical heroes about the consequences they had to face. Moses missed out on the Promised Land he led the children of Israel to. David lost the first child that came from his adultery. And we deal with consequences as well, but just like all these others God still chooses to use us and love us if we will be honest and return to Him.

And isn’t that what makes the Bible the very best story of all?

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6 thoughts on “What Makes A Good Story?

  1. Oh I do so love to read and I read aloud to my boys right up until they were in high school (and I still read aloud to my youngest high school student!). I think I only passed that love of reading onto one of them but the other two still enjoy listening to stories.

    1. It’s doing it and giving our children the opportunity. I love your commitment and I am sure it will be a memory of you they will remember when they are parents themselves.

  2. I love conversations that begin with “What are you reading?” It can tell us so much about a person and their interests. I’m thankful we have such a treasure of stories saved for us through scripture.

  3. I love to read, too, Pam. Reading is often listed as one of my gratitudes for the day. Yes, the bible is the best story of all. I’ve never read it from cover to cover, but you’ve inspired me to find a way to do just that!

    1. Thanks, Lynn. I think one of the things I have gained by reading the Bible cover-to-cover (often over a year’s time) is to see the whole of God’s story and see Him with a more complete picture without just staying with my favorite parts. As I said, I nearly always see something new as I am reading through it again. I haven’t done that for a few years but started again this year and just finished Exodus. What an amazing thing to image with hundreds of thousands of people on this journey and then to consider how they constructed the tabernacle there. I like to visualize what I am reading as it adds to the understanding (like I think the episodes of The Chosen have been doing).

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