What Are Stories For?

Stories are everywhere. We can’t have conversations without intuitively using them. They come so naturally to us that we’re hardly aware of their presence.

Stories go beyond merely sharing basic information. We use them to interpret. To bring meaning to remembered events. We use them to project our ideas about the future.

Stories are repackaged, shared experiences. They allow us to travel in time. We use them to work out what really matters to us. To expose social transgressions. To affirm our values and aspirations.

Stories are part of how we make critical observations. We use them as simulations to evaluate other peoples’ behaviour. Fiction allows readers to do this within a controlled space. We can safely be fascinated by characters, empathise with them, fear them. We use stories to learn about ourselves. To imagine how we might react to similar challenges.

The act of storytelling is a powerful social bonding experience. Stories draw people together. They affirm shared beliefs and judgements.

I think, in some ways, fiction works differently from factual stories. There’s clearly a grey area between the two. Real life stories tend to be extraordinary because they break with the mundane. They involve new scenarios. New sets of challenges. A new social politics. New solutions. Or an inability to reach a solution (which is a solution in itself).

Fiction tends to explore our feelings for characters. Often characters who are different from us. Fiction tends to reinforce preexisting ideas about the world. What we already know and believe. It’s a comforter. The hero in fiction is the ultimate comforter.

Much delight, and confusion, arises from confusing fiction with reality. People do fill in the blanks with their own assumptions. They impose layers of fiction into their own lives. To the point where it’s a challenge to differentiate between the two.

Every point of view is a kind of fiction. It’s one person’s interpretation. A reconstruction of the world.

Power is about imposing a single viewpoint on other people. Establishing it as the perceived ‘truth’.

For people writing fiction, all characters at their heart are trying to make sense of their world. They’re interesting to readers and film audiences because we’re also making sense of our world.