What is a Story, and Why Does It Matter?

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Part 1: The Parts Have Power

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of stories. There are other types of literature - poems, proverbs, teachings, lists - but stories dominate God's written word. People everywhere are interested in stories. We like to listen to them. We often enjoy telling them. And we tend to remember them. That's why they have so much potential as material for GRN recordings.

Try this activity:

Identify the story from the Bible that is related to the phrase below:

a. Writing in the dirt with finger

b. Laying cloaks at one man's feet

c. Pouring water many times on a sacrifice

d. A wall falling down

e. Animals, two by two

f. A ram caught by its horns in a bush

g. Water covering Egyptian chariots

Did the stories pop into your head almost immediately, complete with images? Think of 5 other stories and the phrases that indicate them, like the above. Can others guess what the stories are?

Stories live in our minds for years, even a lifetime. Maybe that's why God filled His written word with them. It's significant that most stories share key characteristics, whatever country and culture they come from. (There are probably cultures where stories take a very different form, but it seems that a majority have these elements.)

Remember Primary school literature lessons? A story has parts. Characters, Setting, Inciting Incident, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Conclusion. If your teacher wrote these on the board, you might have thought, "Who cares?" But it turns out that these parts make a story what it is. And that includes the stories in the Bible. These parts have power. Without them a story doesn't happen.

Setting - The place and time where the story happens has impact. The people of Israel wandered for 40 years in a desert, not a tropical paradise - and that had a big effect on their story.

Characters - the people, animals, even forces of nature that interact in the story. There's usually a main character and his/her opponent. We often identify in some way with the story's positive characters, and want them to succeed.

Conflict - the struggles and challenges that the characters face, especially the main character. Without conflict of some sort, there is no story.

"Today I went to the grocery store. I bought vegetables, milk, and bread. On the way home, I put gas in the car. I arrived home and fed the dog."

That's not a story. It's a rather boring report, but not a story. Why not? There is no struggle, no conflict. Nothing "happens."

In a story, there is a first challenge or struggle that gets the story going. That's called the Inciting Incident. After that, a series of conflicts happen, (Rising Action) and the characters overcome them or get knocked out by them. The main character usually keeps facing the struggles, one by one, until he or she reaches -

Climax - This is where the story reaches its maximum tension. You bite your nails, your heart beats faster, you hope things will somehow work out... And something big happens. The story takes a turn. After the climax the main character is firmly on the road to success and happiness or to certain destruction.

A few more challenges come to the characters (Falling Action), but these don't make you feel as much tension as the ones leading up to the climax. They help release the pressure that was building up.

Finally, the story reaches the Conclusion. Many of the loose ends of the story are tied up. If it's a good story, we wish it wasn't over yet.

Pick any Bible story, especially the most epic ones, like the story of Moses' life, or Old Testament Joseph, and you will find all these elements of a story, richly present. (Try it!) How does this apply to making effective recordings in GRN? If we really understand how stories work, and the communicative power they have, we can use them to maximum impact in our work. How? Check out Part 2: Stories Speak.

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What is a Story, and Why Does It Matter? - A series of articles by Clair Rulison on the role of stories in GRN scripts