Plato said, “If you give me the storytellers, you can have everything else in culture and I will have the power.”

Storytelling is a mighty thing indeed and is central to much of the writing I do even though I write for businesses and never write fiction.

In this recent interview, screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi, who is a devout Catholic, says storytelling is a “wonderful, vaulted vocation.”

Much of what she says in this interview is about Christians who far too often settle for creating schlocky stories and fail to commit to beauty.

The first great mistake Christian storytellers often make is to tack on a moral lesson to the story.

Whereas as Barbara says, “When you talk about storytelling, it’s not that the truth saves you. It’s struggling with the truth that saves you.”

How about taking a story that will make them feel there’s something missing in life? There’s some hole in the core of my soul. The story should send people to their knees. It should send them on a search. It shouldn’t dunk them into the baptismal font and they walk away with church membership and a doughnut. That’s too much of a burden to put on a story.

The second mistake Christians make is their unwillingness to put the hours in.

Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at something. That’s the equivalent of 40 hours a week for five years.

There are exceptions to this, I’m sure, but it makes sense. And it explains why, as a child, I never became proficient in playing the violin and was only average, at best, in golf.  I probably only put in 1500 hours for violin and a lot less than that for golf (stupid Wisconsin winters).

As Barbara puts it,  you must devote yourself to “mastery of craft.”:

“You’re going to have to commit yourself to a 10 year journey of working at a craft, of reading many, many stories if you’re a writer and then writing many, many pages. We say with our students, “If you write 1,000 pages, you will probably stumble into being a good screenwriter.” But most of our students quit around page 200 because it’s boring and repetitive.

“One of the first things I find with Christians is this failure to commit to the demands of the beautiful. John Paul II said, “There are demands of beauty that exact on the human person a very high toll,” that being the artist hours of practice, isolation, rejection, instability and all of these things in order to produce a great work of art.”

I suppose this is what Charles Schulz meant when he said, “Cartooning will destroy you; it will break your heart.”

The third thing Christian artists fail to do is invest the money it takes to produce beauty:

I find over and over and over, Christian efforts in the arts in media are undercut by our cheapness. I see that secular people are willing to bet the farm on a movie. They’re willing to put together a coalition of investors internationally and from all different places and all of this packaging to make a movie that is going to have a $40 million budget. Christians will walk in a room and say, “What kind of movie can we get for about a million and a half?” Really? Nothing.

Barbara says, “Storytelling is always about cracking open the stony heart and making it fleshy.” That applies as much to the stories you tell in your everyday life as it does to storytelling in the arts and media.

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