Because storytellers are humans, too
C.S. Lewis dedicated his classic series “The Chronicles of Narnia” with a sweet inscription to his goddaughter. “Someday” he writes, “you will be old enough to read fairytales again”.
It’s clear to see that Lewis sees fiction as not as a luring escape, but as an essential component to our humanity. Something, he suggests, will eventually draw us back to fairytales. Maybe it’s hungry imagination. Maybe it’s distress. Maybe it’s loneliness. Regardless of the motive, storytellers and writers need to recognize first why we ourselves are drawn to stories—most likely, you will find that it is because you too are human.
Because stories prove that we are not alone
Many research papers have proven that those who grew up reading fiction have a deeper ability to empathize with other humans. This likely has to do with the ability of the reader to plunge into the viewpoints of each protagonist; stepping into the cockpit of another person’s mind—even if that person is fictional. When readers become truly invested into the unique circumstances of a character, the reader gets a close look at how circumstances and feelings affect this character. The reader’s mind stores this memory as a very real experience, and when a reader comes across a person with a similar story, the mind retrieves this as something he or she once felt too. In real life, this translates into relatability. Stories show us that we are all connected. The human experience comes with a range of emotions and situations—we want adventure, bravery, get frustrated, are devastated, feel crazy, and have driving passions. When we read our deepest fears spelled out in a character sketch, or find similar weighty secrets in a library book, we find connection. We find that we are less strange, and more normal. We find that we are not alone. Sometimes, this is why we write too, and as writers we need to be interested in the deep human struggle first and the brilliance of the prose second. In most cases, the former will give natural birth to the latter.
When humanity is in its loneliest and most desperate hours, we hold books towards the light as evidence—evidence that other people feel this too. In this way, writers have to be empathetic and do the hard soul-work of connecting to the people around them—sometimes even the most unglamorous ones—because those people are readers, and are humans like you. If you’re a storyteller who is a misanthropist (and most artists are), this truth doesn’t exclude you. Rather, it bonds you together with other misanthropists as you seek to expose the humanity in all.
Because storytellers prove that there are happy endings
G.K. Chesterton famously wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed”. Chesterton was a brilliant storyteller, and understood what we storytelling humans always knew—every story follows a trajectory. The plot contains desire, hardship in trying to satisfy the desire, and a conclusion that relates to the beginning. This is our default mode. We want our lives to make sense at the end. Fiction books are a way for us to tell a new story to ourselves—one about hope and bravery and the apex still to come.
Because storytellers are rebels with a cause
Storytellers, you are warriors with your voice. Fight for the art of the story, because the art of the story is vital for humanity.
In a rapidly developing world, fiction can be ignored and demeaned. Still, story exists in everything. Every science discovery and technological invention has a backstory of why its pioneer pursued it. Every mathematical equation exists within the context of a larger story. Academia may teach information, but fairytales teach stories; fiction shows why that information matters, what it means in the grand scheme of things, and fuels the imagination with unique ways to work towards a denouement. Facts may make us smart, but stories keep us human.
In what ways are you a storyteller? Do you see stories as essential to the human connection, or is there something bigger than that to tie us all together?