Why Do We Need Stories?

As a writer, and as a human, my interest lies in people’s stories – their relationships, their interactions and their reactions to the people around them and to themselves.

Studying non-fiction at university led me to an epiphany that has inspired my own creative work – the fact that so many people’s lives, adventures, thoughts have gone totally unrecorded. In researching accounts of the Ellis Island immigrants from the early 20th century, I discovered an audio interview with a Ukrainian woman who, when she was a little girl, would build glass cages for ants from discarded camera lenses and watch these captive insects burn and die in the sun. What did her mother make of that? Did the girl recount her past-time to her first love? These are all stories that I want to know about.

When I embarked on the research for this topic I fully intended to write about why we need fiction. Before I move on I’d just like to say that I absolutely believe that we do need fiction. The operation by which an intravenous tube is connected from under the skin of a character to under the skin of a reader is one of endless, unspoken enchantment.

However, the more I thought about this topic, the more I found myself not thinking about fiction at all. In my opinion, creation is the most wonderful thing in the world and the second most valuable thing; just behind preservation. Here’s the thing: preservation is the foundation off of which creativity can be launched. Creativity is the poem; preservation is the poet who knows that in order to mend their broken heart they need to write, they need to go out and purchase a new notebook and a bottle of merlot. I suppose what I am trying to say is before we discuss the poem we should discuss the poet, the novelist, the bank manager, the Tesco check-out assistant – because this is where our much needed stories begin.

Stories enable stuff that happens to mean something instead of floating around for a bit and then dissolving. That’s how it happens, through dissolution. It’s not a switch, that when flicked consumes our stories, our memories in front of our helpless eyes. It’s a gradual fade – and the slowness is what makes it so tragic. Whatever that thing that happened was; it could help us in the future, help us cope with something similar, help us build a level of immunity for when something worse happens – but then again it might not – and there’s washing up do to, and three reports to write and a phone-call that needs to be made to O2 because once again they’ve overcharged you on your monthly bill. And your thing, your memory, your story is dissolved and forgotten.

And just like that your lesson is lost. Oh well, maybe you wouldn’t have needed it anyway. Maybe.

We need stories because they make us. They completely determine our identities. It doesn’t even serve to imagine how little of ourselves we would be if somebody took away our stories. Because of our stories, we are unblind. We are criticized for an inability (and often, a reluctance) to ‘forgive and forget’ but what if, by adhering to that rule, we are compromising our self-preservation and our owner’s right to that experience, that story? If, rather, than forget we can hold on tightly to that lesson, possibly even tighter than happier lessons, then there is a chance that one day we can use it to save ourselves or someone else.

For me, it’s worth it.

Things like these will challenge us, test our morals, our limits, our judgements. In a world of ever developing intelligence and technology we need to embrace our vulnerability as humans. I believe that as humans, stories – and the emotions we attach to them – are our best asset. I’ve talked a lot about needing stories for lessons and preservation and combat and cures and coping but I’d like to finish with a word about what our stories are really best at.

Stories are our hopes: all the daydreaming we do, the people we aspire to be. They are things that we’ve told ourselves we can achieve. They are things we know we can achieve because of the ever-improving recipe built on our past experiences.

Stories are our hearts: they tell us why we love the people we love. They remind us what those people did to make us one hundred percent certain that we need them in our lives to hold close for as long as is physically possible.

Stories are our souls: they are everything we are, so don’t let them go, because never losing those stories may mean that on the day where you feel everything else is falling apart, you will never lose yourself.


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