The Responsibility of Story Telling

This weekend, I saw the Batman movie. So many of my friends were raving about it, and I generally like superhero movies, so I was looking forward to it. Now, disclaimer, before I say anything else, I tend to be fairly sensitive to movie content, and I'm not suggesting here that you shouldn't go see Batman just because it bothered me, nor will I think you're a terrible person if you already saw it and liked it. But moving on... if you don't know, this version of the Batman story is called The Dark Knight because... well... it's darker. No surprise there. I knew that from the other two movies. But this one was different for me. In a nut shell, (and I won't give too much away in case you haven't seen it) one of the villains is taking over Gotham City, and he wears this really creepy mask throughout the movie and is highly unpredictable in his "bad guy"persona... shooting people left and right. I can't tell you how many people I saw get shot in this movie. And I kept thinking about those poor people in Colorado, and a few times I felt like I couldn't breathe.

Now, I'm not suggesting the movie is at fault for what happened in Colorado. Not even a little. I want to be clear about that.

But I am saying that as I was sitting there, I felt really disturbed deep within my spirit. At one point I even felt a little panicky. The lines between fiction and reality kept blurring, and I thought back to how all those people getting shot in real life was so similar to what I was watching on this movie screen, as entertainment. As entertainment?

This happened to me once before while teaching. One of my students told me he couldn't finish a short story I'd assigned because he had flashbacks to when he'd fought as a soldier. I was horrified to have put him in that position, even if the story was rather tame in my opinion.

At what point do we cross the line? At what point have I? In the name of "being realistic," "appealing to the audience," "reaching the unreachable," have we gone too far, even in Christian writing? This issue isn't specifically about Batman; it's an issue of how we tell stories.

And I don't know where the line is. But I know there is one. The only way I know to find it is to pray honestly and listen fiercely to what the Holy Spirit says, and even then, sometimes it's difficult to tell where He's leading.

I believe we have a responsibility as storytellers. As Willy Wonka says, "We are the dreamers of the dreams." We create the thoughts and craft the stories that people go to sleep after reading and dream about and carry with them through the next day. That is a high privilege, and a fearsome thing. It's so easy to get small-goal oriented and forget about the bigger picture. We think about our line-by-line edits and whether we've repeated a word too many times. We think about whether we've grabbed the readers' attention enough from the beginning. But the bigger picture is this. Stories change lives. Your story will change lives. The question is this. What kind of a change will it create? Will it be for the better? Or will it be just another deadening, burdensome depiction of the lost and fallen state of the world? In Christian writing especially, even in the heavy-hitting topics, I think we have a responsibility to show light to a dark world that may never see it otherwise.

What do you think? Have you ever read or watched something that really just unsettled you? How do we go about responsible storytelling? What about when dealing with stories that plunge into deeper, difficult subjects?


  1. Ah, such a difficult, but relevant topic, Ash!

    I think you're right on. We pray, we bring light into it. If we show darkness with no light, then what hope is there? What's the point of the story? To show that the world is awful, dark? We know that already. That's why I never liked creative writing in college. I felt like every story had to end with death or some awful thing for it to be considered "good literature." But I digress...

    I think it's important to address the hard issues, but address them in light of the fact that God is ultimately in control. And He cares. He loves us. Wants a relationship with us. And if we can show readers that, then, well, that's a job well done.

    I loved The Hunger Games but the darkness stuck with me for awhile, especially since there isn't necessarily a hope in God that's revealed.

    1. Great example! I had a couple friends who almost left that movie because the darkness of it unsettled them so much. And yes, I've so been down that road with "good literature" versus, well, the popular stuff, and the snobbery that often comes with postmodernism. I was so relieved when I was allowed to write a happy ending for the first time! :) Thanks for stopping by today! You always have such insightful thoughts! :)