Why We Tell Stories

If you have not guessed by now, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to storytelling. As human beings, we have been telling each other stories as long as we have been capable of communication. We have had this intrinsic desire to share our experiences with others. No matter what part of the world you are from, what culture, what religion, we all have our stories.

And we are creating more every day. Between blogs, podcasts, games, movies, tv shows, books, poems, (and any other medium I may have missed) there are countless new stories created each day. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat have stories and Twitter has moments. We cannot seem to get away from this need to share.

Why is that? What are stories so important?

Making sense of the world

All you have to do is look at mythology and legends to see how stories help us make sense of the world. Myths are stories people created to explain what was happening around them. They created the gods and goddesses to explain how the world came to be and how humanity was created, as well as all manner of natural phenomena. They did this to feel like they had some sort of control over the world, that they could appease these deities into doing what they wanted. It also gave them something to blame when the worst happened.

The stories of heroes help them understand their place in the world. Whether in relation to the deities or their society, these stories work as a sort of social blueprint. The heroes and heroines and damsels all serve to show people what is expected of them. The evil witches and wizards and temptresses show what is not acceptable.

You also have fairy tales. Short, fantastical stories used to teach children to behave. They usually feature misbehaving children who suffer the dire consequences of their actions. The original versions of these stories can be quite terrifying and, contrary to popular belief, the Grimm fairy tales were not written for children.

Even though we are older and wiser and know these stories to be untrue, they continue to captivate us. Part of this can be attributed to Disney as well as Marvel and DC Comics, of course. But even without that, we are still drawn to these older tales. They are timeless and curious and I can’t help but marvel at how much they tell us about where we came from as humans.

Making sense of our lives

When you read, write, or tell a story, you experience things through the character’s eyes. We identify with them because we see part of ourselves in them. Some people live vicariously through them because their lives are more interesting. We celebrate when they celebrate. We mourn when they mourn. Sometimes we even grow up with them.

Writing the story adds a whole new layer to this. There is a quote that says a writer lives a thousand lives, and it is really true. Reading a book, you have no idea how the story started or what all it went through. There are countless revisions, additions, sometimes a genre shift or two. Some stories may even have started with a completely different main character.

We pour so much of ourselves into the world, the plot, and the characters. It is impossible not too. We use these stories to work through whatever it is we are struggling with. It may seem like we are using writing to avoid our problems but for many of us, it is how we process things.

Journaling is another form of telling a story, although few people ever get to read our journals. The act of physically writing down what is going on in your life is very therapeutic. It is like being able to share all your secrets with someone who never judges and never tells. Here you can work out exactly what you are thinking and feeling with no fear of repercussions. While I refer to writing as thinking on paper, journaling is feeling on paper.

Making connections

As I said earlier, mankind has been telling stories since we were able to communicate. These stories can connect people in ways you may not realize.

Look at fan communities. People bonding over a shared love of a story or series of stories. Not only does this give people a chance to share their thoughts and opinions, but they do so much more.

These communities allow people to build lasting friendships with people from all around the world. They gather together to support each other in times of need. They help teach people that it is okay to be different, to like different things, to have different interests. They show people what it is like to feel accepted.

This applies to online communities as well as when people run into each other and realize they share an interest.

There is another way that sharing stories can help bond us to people. We all have stories we wish were not true of our lives. Things that we have done, things that happened to us, things we have to struggle with. These are the stories we keep to ourselves unless we really, truly trust someone.

We don’t always realize that the people around us have those stories too. By opening up and sharing your experiences and your struggles with someone, you let them know they can open up to you. We are less alone than we think. My personal experience has been that our struggles are not uncommon.

It is okay to struggle. It is okay to doubt. It is okay to share this with people. Friends can help you come to terms with what you are dealing with, help you realize you are not alone, and help you find a way to move past it.

All in all, the world would be a much darker place without stories.

How have stories changed your life?

My Battle with Writer’s Block

I have competed in NaNoWriMo every year but one since 2011, to varying degrees of success. And by varying degrees of success I mean I have never won but I did finish some of the stories. This past year, though, I had an interesting experience.

Plotting started a few months before November. I had already been chewing on the idea for a while and it was finally the way I liked it. I developed the characters, laid out how I wanted things to unfold. I was ready to go.

64 pages and 23 days in I finally gave up. There were maybe 12 pages that I was okay with. Everything else I hated. I tried at least six different ways but could not for the life of me get it started. I liked the world, I liked the characters, but everything else I couldn’t stand.

So I shelved the story and tried to move on with my life. This is one of the worst cases of writer’s block I have ever had. Not counting the time I finished a story and then could not look at it again for a year.

I could not for the life of me figure out what the problem was.

I continued playing around with the idea every so often for the next few months, hoping I would find some way to make the story come to life.

That is when it happened. Two side characters who had been creeping along the edge of the narrative stepped forward, bringing with them the few pages of another unfinished story. One of them had existed since the beginning and the other showed up in one of the attempted introductions. Both were important to the story, though I could never quite figure out their motivations.

I was a little confused when they came up to me. We all sat down with a cup of tea and they told me the whole story. Their story. Piece by piece things started clicking together. It took some time and a two hour Skype call with a friend to iron out some of the details, but the story was finally ready to be told.

The main cause of writer’s block is because the story is not ready to be told. Either it needs more work or you personally are not ready to write it yet. Anxiety and insecurity can play a big part in this. I will dive further into this topic at a later date.

The good news is, there are ways to cope with writer’s block. Take a break. Try it from a different angle. Talk it through with another writer or storyteller or creative person. Drop your characters down a hole and see how they get out of it. Take them to the circus.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on writing. Just because you are stuck, just because it doesn’t look like things are working out the way you want them to, doesn’t mean it’s the end. Writing is hard. It is also very subjective. Keep an open mind and don’t lose hope.

You can do this.