Writing and The Power of Stories

Posted February 24, 2007

I’ve been thinking lately about stories. The stories we tell others, the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we find in books and on TV. There is a great power in stories. Stories change how we think and view the world. Marketers know this — every advertisement is a story. A particularly famous example of this is Jared the Subway guy. His story of how he lost weight from eating subways powerfully sells the idea that Subway’s food is healthy.

Earlier I was looking at the website for the Python programming language. One might think a website devoted to a programming language, a technical and geeky subject, wouldn’t have any stories. But no, programming languages have stories too apparently, there are some 33 ”success stories” written by users of Python.

Oftentimes, while reading or listening, we only remember the stories the speech or book. Jesus Christ was a master at teaching with stories, or parables (a story with a moral) as they are called in the Bible. In his seminal book, ”Jesus the Christ“, James Talmage wrote:

[A] simple story will live, even in minds which for the time being are incapable of comprehending any meaning beyond that of the commonplace story itself. Many a peasant who heard the little incident of the sower and the four kinds of soil, of the tares sown by an enemy at night, of the seed that grew through the planter had temporarily forgotten it, would be reminded by the recurring circumstances of his daily work… and then, when time and experience, including suffering perhaps, had prepared them for deeper thought, they would find the living kernel of gospel truth within the husk of the simple tale.

As social animals, we love to tell stories. We turn every event in our life into a story. A friend meeting another friend, the first word of of their mouths is, “I’ve got to tell you what happened last night”. We have this strong impulse inside us to turn our lives into a story.

This blog post started to form when I was thinking about journal writing. I was trying to understand what compels me to write in my journal and why is the experience of writing so powerful. While thinking, I had the insight that it’s because of stories.

When I write in my journal I find my story and myself. I weave the threads of my life, past, present, and future, into a coherent story. I create a plot line, a protagonist (me hopefully), antagonists, and an destiny. I decide why what happened, happened, I decide what needs to happen and if my story is in need of a plot or character shift.

“Know yourself”, the Philosopher shouts. I write to know myself. I write as a historian, to know my past. I write as a journalist, to know my present. And I must write as a prophet, write my most powerful stories, to know my future.

What if my life doesn’t have a story? Then my life is meaningless, without root or branch. I am not stable but pushed about by every fad or fashion. So in short, writing a journal helps me discover my story. And knowing my story gives me purpose and direction.

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Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.