Tell It Like It Is

I plead with you not to tell me stories which improve on the world. Instead tell me stories about the world as it is, strange and real and full of grace.

This spring I finally got around to reading Moby Dick. (I told you I was a bad reader.) Its opening sentence is one of the most famous in English fiction. “Call me Ishmael”—this is something strange. This is something beyond myself. And yet I’m then plunged into a story that is lavishly involved with the real world of whaling and the anatomy of whales, of ships and the anatomy of ships, of the ocean, and not least of the human heart.

And this is the most basic test for quality in fiction, it seems to me: is it absolutely faithful to the real, and absolutely faithful to what is strange and extraordinary within the real? For the Christian this is another way of saying, is it about grace? Because grace is the interruption of the unexpected in the real. Cheap stories barely touch reality—they present a simplified simulacrum of reality, a version that is easier for the storyteller and for the reader alike. And cheap stories are never really surprising. No one was ever surprised by a game of solitaire.

From Andy Crouch’s address at the 2005 Christy Awards.

4 thoughts on “Tell It Like It Is”

  1. Awesome. I love Moby Dick. I read it at the beach several years ago (appropriate)

    One of my favorite sequences is the old sea-dog preacher’s homily. Loved it.

  2. I’v enjoyed it too. I want to pick it up again, because I missed some parts, but it’s a great novel. I’m finding it hard to describe a couple parts I liked.

  3. I tried reading Moby Dick for the first time just a few years ago. I thought it was great…right up until I realized that the Pequod had been at sea for quite some time, and there still wasn’t any sense of motion, of being at sea, of nautical atmosphere. The ship might as well have been at the dock the whole time.

    If you’re going to write a sea story, darn it, write a sea story!

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