story noun. a description of events and people that the writer or speaker has invented in order to entertain peopleDefinition of story from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
Why are stories so important?
If you ever spent a lot of time around young children or if you can remember from your own childhood, then I bet you’ve heard of stories like Spot the Dog or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Stories like these introduced us to different foods, different animals, different items around the house, colours, counting and words, even relatives, friends and relationships. They helped our little brains understand the world around us, by associating most of the things we take for granted today, with simple narratives.
They’re vital for learning and there’s even a study to show that people remember facts and information more easily from a story, than from statistics alone.
Other than being excellent learning cars, stories are also a way to find common ground with strangers. They unite us through fear, joy, sadness, amusement, desire, disgust and excitement. With a story, we find ourselves in scenarios we may never find ourselves in real life. Reading about someone’s experiences, feelings and reactions, helps us to consider our own thoughts and feelings in a similar position. Being able to relate or connect to imaginary characters can have the same effect as if you were relating to someone you actually met or know and connecting to people is part of our survival psychology: from the moment we are born, we rely on those connections with other people to ensure our growth. Stories can help develop our understanding of other people and strengthen the bonds of our relationships.
It’s that part of stories that fascinates me.
How do stories do that?
There are loads of tools that writers use to make up a story and I will get to them as I write more posts on the subject, but one of the simplest ways to explain how they become deeply personal, is to think of it like this: stories are a way to see from someone else’s perspective but reading a story is only one half of the task. As a reader, you have to put in a little work too; you have to be the one that turns those words into images and thoughts.
If I said, “Thomasz was a towering man, with frizzy curly hair that stuck out from under a faded baseball cap. He had piercing blue eyes, a gold-hoop earring and a jagged scar down his left cheek”, and then asked you to draw what I described, you’d all probably come up with someone who had all those features, but they won’t look the same.
We could all read the same book, but based on our own experiences, emotions, imagination, we’ll probably have a different understanding of it by the end. To help prove the point, I asked my friends to draw their version of Thomasz and they gave me the awesome, similar but different, pictures in this post.
Like I mentioned in posts for geeks., watching a film or reading a book a second time round, or after a few years, could change the way you interpret it altogether… maybe you missed something the first time round or your life experience has given you a new point of view. Your version of a story is entirely dependent on you.
As I grew up, the stories I read became a bit more complex than Spot the Dog. I liked R.L.Stine’s Goosebumps collection and Stephen King novels in my teens and then as I got older still, I would read Herman Melville and the works of Oscar Wilde. Now that I have a bit more of a grip on the bits that make a story up, I want to take you through some of them from one of my favourite stories from school; Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
Although I read it and wrote about it in school there’s a lot that I just couldn’t understand until I got a bit older. It’s jam-packed with writing devices that bend the mind and I think it’d be a perfect start for posts for geeks.