Story Power gurus, from ancient times to modern days, proclaim the universal truth that nothing hooks and holds human attention like story. If you’ve ever damaged a tooth or had a sore spot or irregularity in your mouth, you can attest to the fact that your tongue will seek it out, poking and exploring. It’s a curiosity, a puzzle, and we can’t resist puzzles.
Stories are puzzles, too, and they draw us in, surely and inevitably, as our mental “tongue” probes the story problem and grapples with how to solve it. We may not perceive it on a conscious level, but we become intimately involved in the story, worried about what will happen next and wondering how the story problems will be solved. Scientists who study the workings of the brain have demonstrated how our brains interact with story. When we watch, read, or listen, we are IN the story, taking part, experiencing along with the characters.
The first film in history was a horror picture?
Arrival of A Train at La Ciotat, produced by the Lumiere brothers in 1895, is considered to be the first motion picture. It created an uproar, causing viewers to shriek in terror and run off in a panic. Watch it yourself and see how you react. It’s only 49 seconds long, so there’s no time for popcorn. Come right back when you’re done.
Are you wondering what’s the big deal?
As experienced movie-goers, we are sophisticated enough to separate ourselves from what happens on the screen in this short duration. But those who saw it for the first time, in 1895, felt the imminent danger of a train bearing down on them. Their experience was one of standing on the tracks. They felt, and acted on, the urge to get out of the way. Before we go congratulating ourselves on our superior understanding and sophistication, let’s be aware that science has shown that when we get involved in a story, our brains react as if we’re participants in the action, whether that be standing on train tracks or attending the funeral of a loved one.
There is power in story
Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, says that story is so powerful because what’s happening on the page and stage is happening to us. We experience it along with, and through, the protagonist. It’s virtually a virtual training ground for life, and that’s why we get so wrapped up in it. Our brains are thirsty to learn how to attack and overcome conflicts and situations for our benefit, even our very survival.
Warning! Do Not Read This Story
A couple of weeks ago, at a writer’s meeting, I met award-winning author, Robert T. Jeschonek. I first heard of Robert years ago when Dean Wesley Smith shared an anecdote about reading an incredible story Bob wrote, titled Whatever You Do, Don’t Read This Story. It was mind-bending, Dean said, a feat that shouldn’t have been possible, because the story is written from the point of view of the story itself.
Later, Bob published another version of the story, called Warning! Do Not Read This Story, which you can find on Amazon. I just finished reading it, and it’s a dandy illustration of the power of story. Granted, it’s a little over the top, but that’s a hallmark of Bob’s style and what makes his work so delightfully fun to read. If you want an amazing look at how story can hook and motivate, give it a read.
We’ve all been there
Care to share a book-reading or movie-viewing experience that showed how caught up in the story you became? I got so angry when I was absorbed in Mockingjay that I threw it across the room at one point and had such a profusion of tears in my eyes that I had trouble finding it so I could continue reading and find out what happened next. Because of course I had to. I’d love to hear about your experience with being inside a story. Comment below.