Finish The Story

“This is a stupid arc. This plot is redundant and the characters aren’t empathetic. I don’t even like the Hero that much.”
on Apr 21, 2016 · 14 comments

old-booksSometimes amazing stories don’t look so amazing when they first begin.

Consider many people in Western cultures that are becoming more ignorant of the Bible.

“Well, I tried to read the Bible,” some say, “All I found there are boring genealogies, bloody sacrifices, bloodier ‘genocides,’ and a lot of rules about sex that are simply offensive.”

My advice?

Finish the story.

Or how about Christian readers who hear about or try to read a fantastical fiction series?

“Yeah, that’s the story in which the hero breaks the school rules and only gets rewarded for it, and practices ‘magic’ that is actual witchcraft, and there’s nothing that looks like Jesus.”

Again, finish the story.

This advice counts even more about serialized stories, in which Story 1 in the series doesn’t always make sense or fully realize the story’s themes until you reach Story 5 in the series.

I recall when viewers, Christian and otherwise, criticized the 2008 film The Dark Knight.

“You’re kidding me. At the end they pin the blame on Batman and lie to Gotham City?”

Finish the story.

Also, enough with the "Martha made them besties, haw haw," joke. As if treating superheroes like human beings with feelings, and not mere cartoon characters, is automatically stupid.

Also, enough with the “‘Martha’ made them besties, haw haw,” “joke.” As if treating superheroes like human beings with feelings, and not mere cartoon characters, is automatically stupid.

Of course, more recently came near-identical criticisms of Batman v Superman.

“The story didn’t make sense. That vision was weird. It didn’t finalize the spiritual themes.”

That’s because the story isn’t actually over yet, so we must first finish the story.

We can’t stop a TV show partway through and then complain about missing the ending. And we can’t stop a film or TV series partway through and lament the lack of resolution.

Which brings up the issue of trust. Why would we stop the story partway through? Because we don’t trust where the story is going and don’t feel the storytellers have earned our trust quickly enough. Or the story is new and strange to us and we have no confidence in it.

I felt this way about Japanese stories in general, and then anime series in particular.

Two family members recommended the first anime I tried, called “Fairy Tail.”

“Yeah, the heroines look like perverse drawings, sometimes I don’t understand the humor, and these transformation visuals are just silly. Why would I spend 200+ episodes on this?”

Finish the story.

That’s what I would have told myself. Or at least finish the arc, giving the storytellers a chance to earn trust—just as the witness of two family members promised they would.

Even after the “Fairy Tail” fandom got to me, it required two fans’ recommendations for a new anime series, “One Piece.” By then I was quite happily ensconced in the story-world of “Fairy Tail.” Fine, I’ll allow one crazy anime series in my life. But I did not want to hear my anime-fan sister-in-law, or even author Ted Turnau who has written a book about popular culture and everything, to start another anime about superhero pirates, “One Piece.”

Yet start it I did, and it took dozens and dozens of stories to get really good.

One Piece: Usopp hammer

The moment I realized “One Piece” was awesome.

“This is absurd. The characters look too wacky and the show is far too sentimental. Lots of recaps. Okay, I got it, this part is Very Sad. No, sorry, this thing with the dog is just stupid and that actor’s noise doesn’t even sound like a dog. Do they not even have dogs in Japan?”

Finish the story.

Or finish one arc, and you will suddenly find the phrase “Usopp hammer!” totally hilarious.

Now, apply all of this wisdom to real life.

I am not very old. But I’ve been forced to do this repeatedly, even as recent as last week.

“Why all this suffering? I feel banished, cast out, afraid about the future. I thought I trusted the Storyteller, especially when He told such an amazing and true-life Story about creation, fall, redemption, the Church, and the future glorification of all things. But I don’t. Not when things like this happen—lost family, lost friends, lost jobs, lost opportunities.

“I’d just as soon stop participating. This is a stupid arc. This plot is redundant and the characters aren’t empathetic. I don’t even like the Hero that much. Let’s find another book, maybe another author if one exists. I could write this better. This is a dumb fandom.”

Finish. The. Story.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. waterfallbooks says:

    Spiritual connections aside, when do you choose to give up on a story? Especially those that require a large time commitment.

    • Hmm, that strikes me as a good question.

      I’ve put aside books before when I found that, despite my initial positive impression, the story did not grab me. Usually this is when I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story’s goodness, but find little to validate that claim at first — it’s not usually when someone I know and trust has assured me the story is really, really good.

      As for movies, however, I’ve almost always finished them. I even managed to finish The Last Airbender directed by M. Night Shyamalan just to say I could. But I would never, ever put myself through that experience again.

  2. notleia says:

    I think there’s legit criticism in not being able to finish a story for a variety of reasons. I follow Fairy Tail, but I totally get why someone wouldn’t want to slog through the filler (that gets SO. UGH. when they run up on the manga) to get to the good stuff. I couldn’t bother with much of Death Note or Code Geass because I have a hard time giving a poop about smug dudes who are oh-so-smarter than everyone. Sometimes it’s just doing the calculus about whether you get enough out of something to be worth your time and energy.
    I realize that’s pretty much the antithesis to your point, Burnett, but cherry-picking has some self-preservative merits to it, especially when it comes to emotional labor. Burnout does nobody good.

  3. Sarah White says:

    Certainly true, to a point. There’s a lot to be said for not giving up on stories too soon, and being deliberate about understanding storytellers’ visions and purposes. On the other hand, I’ll second what Leah said about self-preservation. It would be awesome if I had the time and energy to invest in following each book series and TV show its conclusion, but who does? For practical reasons, I’d rather invest in stories that resonate with me than slog through ones I’m not enjoying in hopes they will eventually make sense. Am I missing out on some hidden gems? Probably. Am I sparing myself a lot of disappointment, boredom, and ill-spent time? Definitely.

    Trusting God for the outcome of His story is one thing (love the application, by the way!). Unfortunately, trusting fallible human authors is a lot riskier. Sometimes stories are genuinely disappointing and badly-told. Even the best stories have their faults, and they’re all subject to personal taste. The reality is that not every story will resonate with every person. 🙂

  4. Paul Lee says:

    The sense of choosing our favorite flavor, putting personal taste as the main factor in how we talk about enjoying entertainment, always gives me a bad feeling about the whole thing and turns me off from the concept of Christian hedonism.

    It’s inauthentic and postmodern (in the bad way) to think that we get to choose what we like. The only story that we can authentically claim is that of our own life. We didn’t choose much about our lives, certainly we don’t have the power to “cherry pick” what we like and make everything else change into unicorns and rainbows. That would be delusional. The great stories tell us, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” and that leaves little room for taste.

    I believe meaning comes only from narrative. Certainly authenticity comes from narrative. In order to be real and legitimate, something has to have a reason to be where and what it is. If we are to be authentic people, we have to do what we have real cause to do, what the authentic circumstances in our lives bring us to do as the most honest thing. Treating stories like cotton candy just reinforces my feeling of detachment, the horrific understanding that the thoroughly human deeds and the only actual adventures are only experienced by fake people locked away in imagination while we petulant gods gorge ourselves indiscriminately on the fake people’s narratives.


    I think it should go without saying that I don’t literally think that it’s often morally wrong to not finish a story or go through all the episodes/movies/whatever. I’m personally not very interested in talking about that, literally.

    • notleia says:

      I guess I don’t follow you, because to some extent, we do choose whether or not to pursue something we like. There may not be a lot whole lot of things we can choose about our lives, but there are some little things that are almost irreplaceable.
      Like my ability to choose to have as little exposure as possible to my jerk brother, since we are both out of the house now. I don’t have to listen to his jerk opinions and put up with his jerk disrespect of boundaries, and it has made my life substantially better to have that much less jerk around me.
      And your use of the word authenticity is curious, but lately I’ve read it in the context of things that tune in with one’s feelings the best. Do you mean something more like “realistic”?
      P.S. Random Question: Have you taken the Myers-Briggs personality test? Interesting linky:

      • notleia says:

        Actually free MB test, but I like the resources on Personality Hacker:

      • Paul Lee says:

        The irreplaceable things are probably the most authentic, because we have an inarguable right to be what we did not choose to be. If it can’t be replaced, you can’t simply choose something else. If it’s irreplaceable, chances are it came into being by an authentic process, it is what it truly is.

        And your use of the word authenticity is curious, but lately I’ve read it in the context of things that tune in with one’s feelings the best.

        No, unless maybe if you’re referring to Jungian feeling, which doesn’t really have anything to do with emotions or shallow personal taste. Even defining ‘feeling’ as value judgment in the Jungian sense, I wouldn’t say that my concept of authenticity is very directly based on feeling. “Realistic” is also a bad way to put it, because something that is “realistic” might not actually be real, it might only have a presumably false appearance of reality.

        Random Question: Have you taken the Myers-Briggs personality test?


        • notleia says:

          I’m pretty sure Myers-Briggs makes use of Jung, so yeah, it’s probably Jungian feeling. I plan on actually reading Jung soon so I can talk more legitimately about his stuff.
          I’m INTJ, so authenticity is only my tertiary function. Oddly enough, my dude is also INFP, but he’s found his cause, which seems important to that type. You can also blame him for putting this in the forefront of my mind because he was trading personality test junk with his social work peeps.

  5. MereChristian says:

    I would suggest that a better way to put it is one that encompasses the main divergent points here and takes both into account. That would be one that encourages folks to try something and still not feel forced to read something they truly don’t enjoy. Mainly to say to “give it a chance” or “give it more of a chance”. If it is to their tastes and enjoyments, they will eventually get it and enjoy it, but if it isn’t, it’s a good thing to stop trying eventually.

    As for the spiritual application, we are more like the characters themselves and must trust that the Storyteller knows what is best for us.

  6. When it comes to giving a story a chance, it really depends. In many cases, I know by the writing style, or the story itself, that it’s not something I’m going to enjoy. I’ve given some things, mainly TV shows, more chance than I should have while I waited for them to get better. In a few cases, such as The Clone Wars and Star Trek, they did. In other cases, they didn’t. (I believe the shows that should be given the most leeway in this regard are often “children’s” shows. It sometimes takes a few episodes of fluff before things start to get deep.)
    With story-related problems, such as witchcraft, I’ve found a few that I gave a chance and was glad I did. In one case, the first book had a scene where one of the good guys communed with the dead. This was way too close to real Biblical witchcraft for my liking. I gave the book a chance. In the second book, it became obvious that what the character had done was wrong.

  7. Audie says:

    I had to give up on Fairy Tail, the fan service aspects were simply too much. Sadly, One Piece has been edging that way, too, especially since the gang regrouped after the two years being apart.

    And there are things like David Weber’s Safehold stories. I liked them at first, thought they were pretty good. I liked the idea of people going through technological progress while being helped along by an artificial being. But after about four books, the entire thing has gotten bogged down with some many characters and so much going on that, yes, I gave up.

    There is simply the facts of time. There is only so much of it, and only a small part of it can be devoted to things like reading stories or watching anime. I’m willing to do some slogging, but only so much. Some stories simply aren’t worth finishing.

  8. Autumn Grayson says:

    I think giving something a chance sometimes means looking past an initial reaction a person might have to what happens in a show, and try and get something out of it. If a show is truly bad, then yeah, I don’t think people should force themselves to slog through it. But I’ve seen people label a show as terrible or violent with no value whatsoever simply because it made them uncomfortable. Instead of just seeing a characters actions as fuel to hate a show, maybe it would be better to see what the show is trying to communicate? Fate Zero, for instance, is very dark, but that is used to portray war as the horrible thing it is. There are many great things about that show. At the very end, for instance, the main character finds some semblance of peace at the end of a very painful life, even though he was cursed to die in misery.

  9. Amen. Many believers do not read the whole story and judge the
    Bible by reading a few lines. We must have a relationship with Jesus to understand the Bible in a proper way.

What do you think?