Thursday, November 25, 2010

"We try to understand the world through stories..."

I read this article the other day on how young children who can't read yet still identify intensely with the characters in the stories that are read to them. Here's the link. It's not surprising to hear that even if the written word isn't comprehensible, the words - the story - is what connects to a person. In the article one of the researchers tried to explain that when children listen to a story they empathize with characters - they are 'mentally simulating' what is happening to that character. It's the first step to comprehension. It's the first step to, ultimately, understanding the real world through a story.

Kind of awe-inspiring, isn't it? To think that stories can have such an impact. I don't think I could imagine a world without stories. Human existence has never not had stories (just check out those pictographs from cave man times if you don't believe me). Movies are stories, family dinner time has stories, photo albums have stories. We're programmed at some primal level to tell, write, watch and listen to stories. Why this all encompassing need to do this? Well, as one of those University of Waterloo researchers said, "We try to understand the world through stories". Yes, so very true. But, at an even deeper level, I think we're trying to not understand the world - which kind of intimidates me - but, on a more selfish level, I think we're trying to understand ourselves and our relationships. I think stories, the best kind of stories, are about human experiences and what is revealed about ourselves and the rest of the people with whom we share our lives.

Writers usually have similar themes running through their work. Issues and ideas that I think we're personally trying to understand and grapple with on an ongoing basis. When a reader listens/reads our stories we hope that some of those themes are shared so we can connect to others. We need to share our stories because, ultimately, we're not only trying to understand the world but we're trying to connect with people too.

So when you wonder why you're beating your head against the wall doing this crazy writing thing just remember that one day, somewhere someone might read one of your stories and feel a little shiver of something called "understanding" and know that you will have connected with another human being. Really, can there be anything better?


  1. And until that day, we can find the connection with our own stories. But seriously, that's what makes a story great - when we find that human connection. It's just hard to do. :)

  2. Hey, Laura: Before I was published and to a large extent even now, I find that I get that connection from my CP. If she "gets" my story then I've been able to make that connection with what's in my mind and out to another person. And, yes, it's never easy. Like I say to my kids, "Nothing worthwhile comes easy."
    Happy U.S. Thanksgiving to you, Laura!

  3. What a beautiful post, Nelsa, thank you.
    As a non-published writer, I often find myself trying to explain to people why publication is so important. It isn't the money or the success, it's truly this: sharing stories with others. Thanks for elucidating it all better than I can.

  4. Yes, indeed. The writing process isn't complete until that connection is made, even if it's only with one other person. It takes a reader's eyes (or ears) to bring the spark of life to inert words.

  5. Hi Anne: Until I read that article I hadn't really been able to articulate it myself. It really is all about that, isn't it?

    Hi Linda: We often think we're done when we've drafted, revised and written the end on the book but you're right, the story really is only complete once a reader reads it. They are our end.