I’ve noticed that people will often say “never let facts get in the way of a good story” ironically or sarcastically, but I believe that this is an important and true statement.

Most good stories have what’s called a story arc, which often starts with exposition, continues with rising action, reaches a climax, followed by a following action and finally with a resolution. The story arc is what makes good stories satisfying and often fun to read or watch.

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Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

This is why people hate the endings of some movies (e.g., “No Country for Old Men,” “The Grey“) and some beloved TV series (“The Sopranos“) — they have no resolution. Good stories should follow a story arc!

The problem is that real life doesn’t follow the classic story arc. Real life is messy, inconsistent, and there’s usually no resolution to things. It just goes on and on and on and on and…

Stories are satisfying, real life rarely is.

This explains why all of “In Search of the Historical Jesus” books and documentaries totally miss the point. Was Jesus born to a virgin, or was it just a bad translation of the Greek word for “young woman”? Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder? Did the Holy Family go to Egypt from Bethlehem or did they go back to Galilee after stopping off in Jerusalem? None of this really matters.

I admit to being an “historical Jesus” junkie for most of my life; however, I’ve come to realize that this is just a sideshow. What matters is the story, not the facts. This is best demonstrated by the Nativity narrative. The story most of us know is nowhere in the Gospels — or rather, it is spread all around the four canonical Gospels, but doesn’t exist in any one of them. The story we know from church plays and The Peanut’s Christmas Special is an amalgam put together over time to try to rectify as many of the minor contradictions as possible. This is, as I have mentioned elsewhere, the value of time-tested ideas. Over 2000 years of honing the details has created a useful story that can appeal to young and old alike.

If you’re a child, you hear with wonder how about the star, the animals and the wise men (bringing gifts of course!). If you’re a libertarian, you notice how the government taxation strategy caused all the problems the Holy Family encountered. If you’re politically liberal, you can say that Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees when they fled to Egypt. If you’re a conservative, you can point out the importance of the nuclear family. The point is that the story has lots of nooks and crannies for everyone to contemplate.

So, does it matter if the Christmas play your eight year old is in is factually correct? Not at all. What matters is the story and the message it conveys.

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The Power of Myth