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I am a participant in a massive story—a story that many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, have referred to as the greatest story ever told.
If you think about it, we all are participants in one big story. Even if you’re not a Christian, you can see that your existence is little more than a snapshot in a huge, continuous story that has been going on…well, basically, forever.
We—every last one of us—are all elements in something which is called a metanarrative. A metanarrative is a narrative which surpasses and encompasses every other narrative in existence – a ‘higher’ story, if you will, than what the regular narrative tells. I first learned the term from my husband, who learned it in one of his theology classes. It’s commonly used to differentiate the overarching story of the Bible from the individual stories therein (the exodus, the times of the judges, etc.).
You don’t have to be Christian to understand or agree with the concept of a metanarrative, but it certainly is one of the easiest examples.
So why am I talking about metanarratives? Well, I wanted something that I could tie in with Good Friday (I wish a blessed Good Friday to you all), but the concept of metanarrative is really important in storytelling.
Every story you will ever tell is an element of some metanarrative.
You’ll see the most evidence of this in fantasy storytelling—The Lord of the Rings is probably one of the best examples. In fact, Frodo and Sam even talk extensively about how they are just a small part in a much, much larger story. Read The Silmarillion, and you’ll see just how true this is.
Even if you aren’t writing a fantasy story, it is still part of a larger story.
All right, you say, so this is all very fascinating and everything, but what’s the point here?
The point is that when you sit down to write your story, you should spend some time thinking about what part your particular story plays in a much larger story. Is it the culmination of a family struggle? The inception of one? Your story is not an island, so if you want your story to be rich and fulfilling, make sure that you have some kind of metanarrative that is happening over it all.
Obviously, your metanarrative is not something you will write down per se. You are just writing the snapshot, after all. But every picture has a background.
Also, your metanarrative should be something which meaningfully connects to the current narrative that you are writing. For Christianity, of course, the promise of the Christ and fulfilling of that promise is the metanarrative. Now, if your story is about a family that stops feuding after years of hatred, Christ’s death on the cross is not your metanarrative. No, your metanarrative is all of the events that lead up to this story.
Not only should your metanarrative be pertinent to the story, it should be the other way around. Whatever you are writing, make sure it is the highest, most crucial point in your metanarrative. Anything less is, well, anticlimactic.
For example, the whole Bible is basically about Jesus coming to die on the cross. It starts out with that as its focus and it ends with that as its focus. Yes, Christ’s impending return is a big deal, but it’s only a big deal because of the cross.
Or, as in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the story occurs at a crucial juncture in the overarching story. Everything before has been leading up to this one moment when the ring falls into Mount Doom; everything after happens as a result of it. A massive shift of power goes from Elves to Men. Yet everything that happens before and after is hardly as interesting as the pinnacle event itself.
That should be your model when you’re constructing your story and its metanarrative. You want this to be the most exciting part of the whole story.
And you definitely want it to be more exciting than this blog post has been.
What do you think of the concept of metanarrative? Share any thoughts or questions in the comments.
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