The power of story

Over the past few years, it has really struck me just how strong the power of a story is.

But really, most of us just take for granted how surrounded we are by stories, how they can captivate us, ensnare us, direct us and shape us, without our even realizing that it’s happening.

Of course, as a dedicated reader (and editor and writer), I love to be willingly captured by a good story, whether it’s one that’s been spun completely out of someone’s imagination or one that’s based in reality and been tamed just enough to be put down in words. I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to extricate ourselves from a story once we’ve stepped inside of its boundaries. The story could be shared via any medium: books, film, television, or any other kind of art.

Have you ever noticed that even if you’re watching a movie or reading a book that’s even just mediocre, it’s challenging to walk away? (I can detach myself from a story that’s really poorly told, however.) Something in us yearns to know “the rest of the story.” It’s so against our nature to not find satisfaction in completion. We must know how the story plays out ’til its bitter end.

What’s even more entrancing is to find ourselves enmeshed in stories within stories. One recent example that had me absolutely mind-boggled was the movie “Inception.” There were so many stories layered inside of each other that I wasn’t even satisfied completely with one viewing; I had to go back and let my mind wander those strange passages several times so I could really follow the stories and how every detail fit together. I absolutely adore complexity. And surprises. (I’ve written about that already in my post on gothic tales.)

But books and movies don’t by any means hold a lock on story. Our minds always create stories for us. We lay down memories that are ordered in some kind of story format. We consciously and unconsciously create stories to make sense of information we run across. Yes, story-making is hardwired within us. Some people are just skilled at weaving the stories within them for others’ consumption, but they are not the only storytellers. I recently loaned some of my favorite books to a friend, and she very kindly extricated some wonderful quotes from the second in the set, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game. One goes like this: “Everything is a tale. … What we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.”

Yes, story is a powerful thing. It can be dangerous; it can be liberating; it can be instructive. It has the power to move people to action, for good or evil.

I just thank those people who have the gift to create and shape stories and share them with me. I think that’s why books are so beloved, and why even writers pay homage to other writers and to the written word itself. Books and the stories in them can transport us and change us, so much so that they come alive themselves. As Zafon also writes, “As long as there is one person left in the world who is capable of reading [books] and experiencing them, a small piece of God, or of life, will remain.” Thank goodness for that!

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

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