In The Healing Power of Stories Daniel Taylor contends that the stories we tell can reshape our characters and add meaning to our lives by reminding us that actions have consequences. Not all stories are created equal and the better stories, he says, “should be truthful, freeing, gracious, and hopeful.” Stories have the power to heal, reenergize, or even harm our psyche depending on their type, of which there are four; whole, bent, broken and healing.
Whole stories portray good as good, evil as evil, and good wins. Most of the classics are in this category and most storytellers spend their time with these types of stories.
Bent stories portray evil as good, good as evil, and evil wins. Examples include many horror stories, pornography, and even Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Bent stories can trap us and make us feel hopeless about the world in general.
Broken stories portray good as good, and evil as evil, but evil wins. Something is broken, not right, and needs to be fixed. Examples include Lord of the Flies and 1984. These stories, while not uplifting, have the potential to motivate us to heal something broken in the real world.
Healing stories portray good as good, bad as bad and can be either whole or broken stories. In a healing story the listener is profoundly moved, changed, or healed by the experience of hearing or reading the story. The answer to the problem is offered within the story itself, often in the ending.
In the stories that we tell and the stories we seek out we can look for truth as well as hope. This doesn’t mean that we avoid sad or tragic tales because they are seemingly hopeless. Sad, complicated stories can also elevate the listener if we realize that there are more complex ways to responding to them rather than by just simply being happy or sad. If a story can move us beyond our sadness to find empathy, healing, or a call to action then the well-told tale can continue to live on long after the story is over.