What do the most successful songs, movies, television shows, novels, short stories, essays, sermons, journalistic writing, and the Bible have in common?
Here is to Jimmy Hoffa. Humans are story tellers. We communicate by telling each other stories. Some stories are fables; some are truth. And some are a mixture.
The point is we talk to each other in stories. The best journalists are the best story tellers. Every introductory journalism text begins by telling the young journalist that he is in the story-telling business.
Story telling celebrates the human condition. A well-reported and well-written story makes us feel as though we are experiencing what those in the story experience. Every story’s goal is to transport the reader, listener, or viewer to a particular place and time, and the best stories leave us outraged, elated, inspired or frustrated. Journalistic story tellers are literary teamsters! Thanks, Jimmy.
It doesn’t make any difference if the place you transport the reader to is New Orleans, a Senate hearing room, Torino, Italy, or a school board meeting. The reader can’t be there, so you, the story telling journalists, are the sensory organs of the reader. The journalistic adage, “Show, don’t tell,” is the only way story telling works. Compelling stories put us on the front lines. Good story telling will transport and thus, transfix us.
I want to suggest a universal structure to all effective journalistic writing that comes from Christianity:
I believe the Bible to be true, but even if one believes the Bible to be myth, the story structure still stands. God has told us a marvelous story, and the story can be summarized into three strands:
Jacques Barzun, in his magisterial work, From Dawn to Decadence (2000), wrote, “What gives the Bible so strong a hold on the minds that once grow familiar with its contents is its dramatic reporting of human affairs. For all its piety, it presents a worldly panorama, and with particulars so varied that it is hard to think of a domestic or social situation without a biblical example to match and turn to moral ends.” (p. 28)
In future blogs, I will flesh this idea out.