What if someone approached me to ask what I’m reading? “The Bible,” I say. And in reply the person doesn’t display any preconceived notion about the Scripture. Instead he or she asks sincerely, “Oh? What’s it about?” Then what if responded with the following “pitch”?
It’s a series of narratives, histories, and other literature set in human history from (approximate date) B.C. to the latter first century A.D. The New Testament has all this theology, letters to churches, and especially the parables based on first-century life with spiritual application and even hints of fantasy. The Old Testament is also fantastic: It has kings, real battle accounts, miracles, assassinations, revolutions, an Exodus and exile, mythological(?) creatures such as in the book of Job, and donkeys.
It’s the same problem as when some fans describe a fantasy story. I first noticed this about prospective authors (including myself) at writers’ conferences, but the difficulty is deeper than a flawed aspiring-author pitch. Christian writers’ and readers’ pitches for their favorite fantastic or otherwise speculative stories are often doomed to resemble this:
It’s a [name of genre] set in [name of world] with [fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi elements such as dragons, zombies, or intergalactic portals] and plenty of [select one or more adjectives or genre modifier: action, adventure, grit, intrigue, mystery, romance, wholesome moral content] that is suitable for [insert reader group(s)].
I’ve come to conclude that this may be one of the singular worst ways to sell a story. And it’s especially ineffective when tried on someone who isn’t part of the semi-professional fantasy-promoters’ “club.”1 Why is this method so mad?
1. The define-story-parts method resembles industry talk (but isn’t even that).
You’d think that “it’s a genre set in world with genre elements and adjectives suitable for readers” would be meant for editors or marketers. But surely that doesn’t even work for them. If they’re any good, even they want to hear something more interesting, fascinating yet familiar, and attention-grabbing. How much more will readers with even more basic interests want to hear about the story — not the story’s parts, but the human story itself?
2. This method is flat-out boring.
The “sell the parts over the story itself” approach reminds me of business, engineering, or even faux academia. It’s the surest way to put potential hearers right to sleep. Reject that stuff. Ask yourself: who or what sold you on the things you now love? Was it your hearing about the chemical makeup of the thing, or simply by taking a sip to sample it for yourself?
3. This method reinforces the worst sort of pragmatism.
Even if a friend asks and you “sell” a story you love by using the “define the parts” method, you’ve just accidentally reinforced one of the least beneficial motives for loving stories —the motive of “how can I use this for X alternative goal?” rather than “how can I receive this, rejoice in this, and in that joyous experience explore God’s beauty and truth in worship?”
Wrong pragmatism seeks to salvage a story for parts, “useful” for wrongfully self-interested goals such as entertainment, moral edification, or evangelism. Rightful pragmatism seeks to receive any good story on its own terms, for the better self-interested end of glorifying God.
Selling Scripture, selling stories
So how would I sell both these stories to those who ask sincerely, “What’s the story about?”
Scripture. It’s about a wonderful, infinite, perfect, holy, loving God Who created the entire universe, including man in His image to manage it on His behalf. But all went wrong when man rebelled. Through ages of humanity, God in His love chose a people and sought to reconcile them to Himself while preserving His own nature. How can a loving Creator show His holiness in not excusing evil, and His loving mercy to creation? The answer is stunning.
Another story. It’s about a person of fascinating yet familiar qualities, who might remind you of someone you know or someone you wish to be. There is nothing in his/her fantastic world she wants more than her goal, which should also be fascinating yet familiar. But all goes wrong when something happens. With her friends she must keep pursuing her goal — which may slowly change as she errs, learns, and grows. On that human journey she faces incredible odds and explores amazing places (fascinating yet familiar! and all described in functional yet beautiful language that gives pleasure and wonder to the whole experience).
How have you “sold” favorite stories? How have great stories been sold to you?
- But as for fantasy fans, they are not so rare as claimed by the myth that Christian opposition keeps fantasy a niche genre. ↩