Americans love technique. Here in the states there are techniques for just about anything one desires. Techniques on how to make love, how to win friends and how to influence people. You can even find techniques for how to sleep better, how to relax better and how to write better. The problem arises when we become so obsessed with technique that we can’t seem to move beyond it.
A few years ago, a woman in one of my writing classes on technique brought up an interesting question. “Why do you think Jesus told parables?” she asked. “Parables are obscure and confuse the listener. Do you think he was using a deliberate technique?” The question had us all thinking that night and debating the topic out loud.
Jesus is known as one of the most brilliant storytellers of all time, but it is hard to imagine he was hung up on technique. Parables are of the beyond. They are a persuasion, an invitation to the mystical, the elusive, the esoteric. Parables are alive and probably the reason they still breathe today. I often think about parables – their purpose and appeal. That contemplation has helped me to realize a few things about my own writing. When my prose is too predictable, it feels wooden and dry. The poetry seems to be missing.
Some of the best stories I have read indicate a direction, a vague feeling or an ending that is not concrete. These are the stories that take on a life of their own. This type of writing takes me above and beyond the predictable, to that mysterious realm of the beyond. The following story is an example of what I am talking about.
“A man was traveling on his donkey one day. It was a long, arduous journey, and the man grew tired and hungry. With no money in his pocket for lodging or food, he decided to sell his donkey to a rich man he had met along the way. The next afternoon, when the sun was high in the sky, the man rested in the shadow of the donkey he had sold. The new owner approached and looked down at him with concern. ‘This is not good. You have sold this donkey to me.’ The weary man looked up in surprise. ‘I have sold you the donkey,’ he said, ‘but I have not sold you his shadow.’ ”
Illogical? Unpredictable? Are you wondering what happens next? There is no next. The story ends there, and we are left to ponder its meaning. Many writers today still strive for that logical conclusion. At times, I am one of them. Then I remember the parable. Jesus knew better. His stories were not always logical. They were not always predictable either. Through his parables he attempted to show us something of the unknown and then left us alone to wonder. His creative stories left spaces and gaps so we could breathe and draw conclusions of our own.
I am not suggesting for one moment that we start writing parables. Jesus was the master of that. But as writers who are learning to sharpen our skills, perhaps we could consider the value parables offer. Maybe, by adding a few hints of the transcendental along the way, we could challenge our readers to become more interested in merits other than logic and predictability.
So what if the ending to our story leaves the reader dangling. So what if it is unpredictable or not satisfying to all. If we leave some room for the unexplainable, perhaps that climate will invite our readers to feel the drama in a whole different way. Then maybe ‘our’ stories will be remembered, too. Long after they have been read and tucked away on some forgotten shelf.