About a month ago, I published a piece here called, Remember. The World Runs on Stories. It was mostly a note of encouragement to writers who felt that their pursuit of the writing craft was either a waste of time or a selfish indulgence … or, perhaps, both.
But, there’s another aspect to the idea of stories running the world that’s been nagging at me.
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My daughter was home sick from school on Thursday, and we watched the 2002 Spiderman movie starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. One of the most quotable lines from that movie is when young Peter Parker’s uncle tells the emerging superhero that, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
It’s a great line.
While it’s reported to have made its pop culture debut in the Spiderman comic back in 1962, the origins of the quote go much farther back in history. Some researchers cite similar phrases showing up throughout history: in 1793 at the French National Convention; in 1817 at the UK House of Commons; in 1854 in a text published by Reverend John Cumming, a Minister of the Scottish National Church, and so on.
Clearly, this isn’t a new concept.
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A while back, a Livingston Taylor song inspired me to write a piece called It’s Good to Be the Writer. The funny, little song about an author arguing with his protagonist over the storyline highlights the power an author ultimately has over the creation of worlds, characters, and plots. Writers are, in a way, like the gods of our own realities.
But, what we sometimes forget is that the worlds we create can develop lives outside the confines of their reality. In fact, that’s their purpose, isn’t it?
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While some may argue that certain stories are nothing more than “pure entertainment,” I’m not sure I believe that. Stories are the writer’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs packaged up into a format that is entertaining; but the fact that the format – whether written, audio, or visual – is entertaining does not strip a story of its meaning.
When I read Mario Vargas Llosa’s Letters to a Young Novelist, I was intrigued by the idea expressed in this quote from the book:
What is the origin of this early inclination, the source of the literary vocation, for inventing beings and stories? The answer, I think, is rebellion. I’m convinced that those who immerse themselves in the lucubration of lives different from their own demonstrate indirectly their rejection and criticism of life as it is, of the real world, and manifest their desire to substitute for it the creations of their imaginations and dreams.
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I have always been especially drawn to and enchanted by works in the “speculative fiction” genre – science fiction, fantasy, alternative history, surrealism, and magical surrealism. While many relegate these kinds of stories to that “pure entertainment” category, they are, in fact, some of the most influential and persistent narratives in our culture.
Storytellers working in these genres have an unparalleled ability to explore alternate realities and possibilities, spinning tales off in unexpected directions in pursuit of a particular line of reasoning or “What if?” scenario. These writers can push characters and storylines beyond the boundaries imposed by “real” life, and yet their fantastical stories often put us in closer touch with what’s happening in this world, right now. And, often, their works turn out to be startlingly prophetic.
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As writers, we are responsible for the stories that we put into the world.
I’m not, by any means, advocating for a world full of morality tales. I’m saying that writers need to be aware that each story they create becomes part of the fabric of reality. Stories are not exactly inanimate. When a reader’s mind encounters a story, a chemical reaction takes place that changes both reader and story. We cannot consume any story without internalizing some aspect of it … hero, villain, belief, possibility.
The stories we internalize color our reality, throwing shadows of themselves across our experience on both a conscious and subconscious level. Some stories offer wish fulfillment, others serve as cautionary tales. Some stories give us courage and motivate us to step more fully into our potential. Some stories make us slow down and rethink the reality we’ve come to take for granted. Some stories help us cope with pain and fear through laughter, acceptance, and shared experience. Some stories provide forgiveness, others hold us accountable.
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It doesn’t matter if you write for an audience of one or a readership that spans continents. Your stories make a difference. Just by writing them, you change yourself, and the effects of that change ripple out from you into the world via every interaction you have with others. And when you share your stories, the effects expand exponentially as each reader takes a little piece of your world view and incorporates some aspect of it into their own.
The world really does run on stories, and each one has the power to change the world. Remember that when you’re writing and when you share your writing with others. There is great power in words and stories. Wield the power wisely. Take responsibility.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.