James P. Carse, from Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility:

Storytellers do not convert their listeners; they do not move them into the territory of a superior truth. Ignoring the issue of truth and falsehood altogether, they offer only vision. Storytelling is therefore not combative; it does not succeed or fail. A story cannot be obeyed. Instead of placing one body of knowledge against another, storytellers invite us to return from knowledge to thinking, from a bounded way of looking to an horizonal way of seeing.

Thanks to artist Karen Renee for sharing this quote with me.

I might argue a bit with this: I think it’s unfair to say that storytellers ignore truth and falsehood altogether. On the contrary, a good storyteller is proceeding by following what “rings true,” by proceeding based on what emerges from all that has come before.

The great Flannery O’Connor sounds to me like she’s talking about truth when she says,

The fact is that if the writer’s attention is on producing a work of art, a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to this central meaning and design. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses. They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole.

But insofar as a good storyteller is not seeking to persuade, but remains attentive to what the narrative wants to reveal to her, then yes, I see a lot of truth in Carse’s quotation.

Stories fail when storytellers allow our pre-conceived notions of truth to commandeer the story being revealed, when we become too eager to narrow the story into point-making or argument-delivery, and lose our proper posture as a receiver and a reflector rather than a teller or, worse, a weaponizer. In that sense, combative storytellers are poor storytellers. When we perceive the storytellers intent to convert, we see a ploy at work, and we are no longer an audience caught up in a story but a subject upon whom a manipulator is operating.

As Katherine Paterson once said in a Books and Culture interview:

Novelists write out of their deepest selves. Whatever is there in them comes out willy-nilly, and it is not a conscious act on their part. If I were to consciously say, ‘This book shall now be a Christian book,’ then the act would become conscious and not out of myself. It would either be a very peculiar thing to do — like saying, ‘I shall now be humble’ — or it would be simple propaganda….

Propaganda occurs when a writer is directly trying to persuade, and in that sense, propaganda is not bad. … But persuasion is not story, and when you try to make a story out of persuasion then you’ve done something wrong to the story. You’ve violated the essence of what a story is.

And then there’s Dorothy Sayers, who in her essay “Dante and Charles Williams” recognizes that the truth of a story is beyond the grasp of the storyteller. The storyteller may perceive some of in the process of discovering and reflecting, but if it is a good story, there is always more to discover.

But it sometimes happens that it is not the poet himself, but another, who discovers the wider relevance [of the poet’s work]. If so, he is justified in so interpreting it in the place where he finds it; for the relevance was always potentially there, and once seen and recognized it is actually there forever. This does not, of course, mean that we can read into poets anything that we jolly well like; any significance that contradicts the whole tenor of their work is obviously suspect. But it means that in a very real sense poets do sometimes write more greatly than they know; and it also means that every poet’s work enriches not only those to whom he transmits the tradition, but also all those from whom he himself derived it.

In this matter, I’ll give the last word to the poet Scott Cairns, who said in an interview with Image:

I think writers with actual intentions generally end up saying things they already thought they knew, and I’m not much interested in reducing my vocation as a poet to something like propagandist. I write poems to find things out, not to communicate some previously ossified conclusion.