Have you ever walked out of a movie theater or finished a novel wondering, “What happened to good storytelling?”

Movies full of special effects and famous actors, and novels full of profanity, sex and shallow suspense seem to cover up the reality that today’s most popular storytellers, or at least those who get their stories on the silver screen and bookshelves, aren’t that good at telling good stories anymore.

It’s because we’ve abandoned the Judeo-Christian worldview that showed us how we are part of The Greatest Story Ever Told, God’s story. Or, what my mother would call “His-story.”

Since we’ve lost the Christian view of history, since we’ve lost the plot, movies have become spectacles for the masses, and novels have become just a way to pass the time. More often than not, stories today are marketed so they appeal to a target audience, but at the price of authenticity.

We need to return to the foundation of good storytelling: the personal connection between the writer and the reader. A good story has one reader, a real person to whom the writer is speaking directly, preferably a loved one. If a writer does not have a particular person in mind for whom he writes, he can choose to write for himself or for God.

Scripture, I would argue, is the origin of the one-on-one reader-to-writer interaction because it is a personal encounter with the first author, God. In the Bible, God speaks to us not so much as the human race, or as an audience of believers, but as individuals. Even when he addresses Israel, one can argue, he addresses the people as his bride, an individual with whom he has an intimate relationship.

That’s why when I, or you, or anyone reads Scripture, they are listening to God speak to them directly. It has been said, “Prayer is where we speak to God, and Scripture is where God speaks to us.” Hence, the Bible, all of human history and our story are all essentially the same story – they’re God’s perpetual pursuit of his beloved.

So also, the novel used to reflect the Bible in the simple fact that the author spoke directly to an audience of one, just as God wants to speak to us in Scripture. Before the printing press, most stories had to be told on a stage because it just wasn’t feasible to produce them in print for individual consumption. But with the dawn of the printing press, we see the emergence of novels with increasingly personable characters like Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the namesakes in “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Robinson Crusoe.” Now the writer could speak to his audience one-on-one. The reader could now go to his favorite quiet spot and identify more directly with the characters, place himself in each scene, immerse himself in each adventure. His imagination became the stage for the story.

This concept of reading as a personal encounter was especially understood in the age of monasticism from around 300-800 A.D., the age that saw St. Anthony move deeper into the desert of Northern Africa to commune closer with God, and St. Benedict, whose “ora et labora” (pray and work) teaching ensured that a personal relationship with God preceded all work.

There’s a story from that age about the first time St. Augustine met his mentor, St. Ambrose. St. Ambrose was reading the Scriptures quietly to himself, and St. Augustine was fascinated by this, because Scripture was typically read aloud to an audience or congregation. St. Augustine later wrote:

“But when [St. Ambrose] was reading, his eye glided over the pages, and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were at rest. Ofttimes when we had come ... we saw him thus reading to himself, and never otherwise; and having long sat silent … we were fain to depart.”

It is to this foundation upon personal, dare I say contemplative, reading that I mean to draw my reader’s eyes. Writing has become so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget the fundamental elements that make it worthwhile. This is why I say we have lost touch with the lifeblood of storytelling, because when I watch a movie or read a paperback novel, hardly do I ever get the sense that the author or screenwriter is speaking to me directly.

Our culture longs for good stories because it has lost the plot of its own story. The only way to start telling good stories again is by rediscovering that plot, which means re-establishing our relationship with God as a culture and as individuals.

David Kilby is a freelance writer for The Monitor and a parishioner of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton. He can be reached at kilbyfreelancer@gmail.com.