Everybody’s got a story to tell. Whether you’re recounting your real life experiences or engaging your imagination as you day dream about fictional characters, we all connect through stories. Storytelling has been around long before the written word and has been a vehicle to illustrate life lessons.
Back in the Hunter Gatherer days, a hunter may have recounted his run in with a deadly boar and lost a limb, so he would gather everyone around the camp fire and tell his story to make a point: “don’t mess with the boar or you get the horns. Now let’s make long pointy things to stab them with so we don’t have to fight bare handed.”
Yes, that’s a true story. To some degree.
Now I’m pretty sure they didn’t talk like that back in the day, but the lesson and experience is universal: mistakes were made and a committment to improvement was made to mitigate any future problems. That’s all stories really do in the end. They reveal human folly, illustrating just how flawed and fallible we are, but also celebrate our capacity to correct course.
Think of your favourite stories. What do they all have in common?
Whether you’re aware of it or not, they all feature a variety of fuck ups made by the main characters, and you got worried about them. You wanted them to achieve their goals, but something got in the way. You related to how they felt when they didn’t get what they want, thus invoking a sense of panic in you to the point where you couldn’t help but turn the page or watch the next episode to find out if they could escape a dreadful situation and come out on top.
Now think even deeper, further beyond the surface situation your favourite characters were confronted with. Think about what their goal was and what it meant to them, what it meant to those around them in their immediate world, and to the entire world at large. Was there a higher purpose to strive for? A moral principle to be uncovered? Some hidden nugget of human knowledge, new or old, that would benefit the growth humanity?
If that sounds too abstract let me give a few brief examples of how there’s so much more beneath the surface when it comes to popular stories:
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is fundamentally about grieving the death of a child, as the story goes, but also serves as an allegory for Alice’s survival as a rape victim herself. She may have survived physically, but mentally, a part of herself died and was reborn into Susie Salmon, the novel’s main character.
Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs is fundamentally about human adaptability. How we are much weaker we are compared to other species, but it’s our wit and human invention that allows us to conquer even the most dangerous of beasts and environments.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is fundamentally about self-ownership and personal choice when it comes to suicide. It may have the basic components of a romance novel; boy meets girl, boy can’t stand girl, but will later need girl. But at it’s core, it’s about the difficulties of living with a disability and the moral complications of suicide.
Now before I go on a long winded bender pointing out the deeper meanings of stories and shamelessly advertising my old BSBS Reviews (for those of you who clicked the links per title), here’s the bottom line:
Storytelling is fundamental to the human experience.
The human experience is fundamental to storytelling.
Writing and telling stories is how we validate our experiences in stylized fashion, emphasizing certain details to illustrate a point and engage each other. Stories invoke empathy, inspire action, and challenge our preconceptions of the world.
Consuming a story is basically putting yourself in a state of voluntary vulnerability in order to experience somebody else’s point of view and learn from their trials and tribulations so you can further improve the use of your own thoughts, words, and actions.
And then on the flipside you can tell your story to provide that experience for others.
It’s Our Write to Live.