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Tell Me a Story

Yehudis Sofer and Faigy Peritzman

The women sitting in front of me were engrossed in heated debate, their opinions punctuated by gestures and exclamations. From the bits and pieces I caught, the situation sounded thorny. A moment before one of them alighted, they both concluded, “It’s a great story. So well-written. I hope it ends happily.…” My jaw dropped. They were talking about a story? That debate was based on fiction? How does an author convey such reality and credibility when a story is simply the fruit of his imagination?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

story tellingThere’s a famous quote: “Words once printed assume a life of their own.”

“The Torah itself is our first example of this power,” points out Rabbi Moshe Grylak, pioneer of contemporary chareidi journalism and editor-in-chief of Mishpacha. “When the Torah teaches us the punishment meted to a murderer, it doesn’t simply write: Whoever murders will be punished with death. Rather, the pasuk says: ‘One who spills the blood of man, by man his blood will be spilled.’ The second half of the verse mirrors the first with the repetition of the words ‘spilling blood.’ In doing so, the pasuk is not simply delivering a punishment to a murderer. It’s painting a vivid picture of the severity of murder and allows us to see the justice in the punishment. Words have power to kill, and also to prevent killing.”

World-famous novelist Libby Lazewnik revels in this ability to use words to activate the imagination. “The reader takes something two-dimensional — paper and ink — and combines it with her unique perspective and life experience to create something full and rich. I suppose that every writer, consciously or unconsciously, tries to tap into that power of activation. That’s the beauty of the writer-reader connection.”

Chava Rosenberg recognized this power while still in high school. “I realized that it takes very little effort to make other people happy. Writing can have limitless influence on people. This insight, that I possess the power to bring happiness to others, continues to motivate me.”


Fact or Fiction?

Rabbi Grylak quotes a non-Jewish author: “The main job of an author is to erase, so that his every word will be as the blade of a sword.” When used proficiently, words can slice through layers of consciousness. In that case, why “waste” such power on fiction? Why not use that cutting edge to perpetuate the truth?

Chava Rosenberg doesn’t see fiction and truth as being on opposite ends of the spectrum. “When writing fiction, my aim is to expose my readers to the truth. People are extremely judgmental, both of themselves and of those around them. When I formulate a plot, I’m trying to portray truth without triggering automatic self-defense. When readers connect to the story, they’re really connecting to themselves in an objective manner and this actualization of reality makes their world a brighter, more proactive place.”

“Fiction has a power that other genres do not possess,” echoes popular serial author Dov Haller. “Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum, the well-known opinion columnist, remarked that fiction writers have a different impact than he does. When reading an editorial or opinion column, readers are expecting to be influenced by the ideas of others. Therefore, they’re on guard, waiting, watching, and weighing words to decide if they agree or disagree with the thoughts offered. Fiction is much more subliminal. The defenses are down, and the messages penetrate more easily. 


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