Why Stories Matter

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories and why they’re so important, not just in general, but personally as well.  In a way, it seems kind of obvious - they’re a way of communicating with the world; a way of feeling less alone; of expressing emotion or receiving emotion.

But then there are still people who would call fiction “escapism”, as though immersing in a fiction is putting aside reality - which couldn’t be further from the truth really, considering a fiction is a product of a real person, with real thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and engaging with another person’s fiction is just as “real” as engaging with any other mode of communication, although it is admittedly much more one-sided.

Even more than that, though, I fail to see how “escapism”, even in that more cynical sense, can be seen as a negative.  When we escape into fiction, we don’t merely retreat into ourselves - we integrate our internal worlds with the fictional worlds of others, crafted lovingly by caring hands.  We meet with characters, places, and events which give us a sense of meaning and connection, and which begin to feel like home.

We also encounter experiences which give us a sense of epic scale, tragedy, elation, and through these we experience catharsis, and at the end of every narrative, we move on a little bit changed.

That’s what fiction is for.  When we tell stories, we build up our own internal worlds. We create structures within ourselves which can shelter us when our external realities become too harsh, too hostile to survive; structures which comfort us, and remind us of what there is to look forward to. What there is to live for.  Stories are the foundations on which we prop up the entirety of our emotional and mental stability.  They give us the tools to build up our resilience before we ever have to weather our own storms.

When we tell stories, we build a shelter within ourselves. The most indestructible home we could ever have, because it is the only thing that will ever be immortal; because we carry it within ourselves, right up until the end of our days.

Stories live within us, and stories maintain us.  That is their power.

Shai Cotten