The Power of Story

Do you remember the last time you were engulfed by water? Completely, totally engulfed?

Was it an accident? Did you fall into a pool or a lake? Maybe the ocean’s current pulled you where you didn’t want to go—one wave held your shoulders down while the next one kept you prisoner. Thrashing, fighting. Terror.

Was it on purpose? Were you taking swim lessons or getting baptized? Maybe you allowed yourself to sink, to be pulled toward the bottom, a blanket of water wrapping your weightlessness in quiet solitude. Floating, bobbing. Dreamland.

Do you remember the way the water enveloped your ears and dulled all other sound? Or the sting of it when it got up your nose?

Did you open your eyes? Do you remember how long it took them to adjust to the dim? Or were you in such a panic that all you saw were scenes of your life floating by, positive that you’d never inhale dry oxygen again?

Had you forgotten about that time? Those sensations? If you weren’t reading this right now, would you have even given your last underwater moment a moment’s thought today? This week? This year?

Stories can do that to us. Stories cause us to remember.

They submerge us, twist us, turn us and cause us to experience memories, sensations and emotions we had forgotten we’d filed away. A death on the page or the screen can bring back pangs of sorrow felt at a death in real life. A scene where children drink from a water hose or run through sprinklers can resurrect relics from our own childhoods.

One millisecond in a story can nudge a dusty memory from the dark, maybe even a memory unrelated to the content or plot in front of us. The storyline sets off a series of electrical impulses in our minds, firing one synapse and then another, until what was buried in forgotten fog comes into the light with crystal clear clarity. And we’re there again. That restaurant. That reunion. That long-ago moment in time.

Stories cause us to notice.

A story that connects violently with all five senses causes us to feel real monsters under our beds, even if it’s a balled-up sock. Or catch glimpses of that monster bent over in the backyard at dusk, even if it’s the tree stump that’s been rotting there for five years. A story that gently pricks those same five senses causes us to pause and make eye contact with that Monarch butterfly on the rosebush, and then we can almost hear its wings flap as it flits away.

A story that connects emotionally causes us to take notice of that old man on the bench. He’s been on that bench for how long now? Bearded and shoeless. Or to realize that the guy who cut us off at the stoplight may not be a jerk. He may be rushing to the hospital for the birth of his first child. Or the death of his father.

Stories cause us to dream.

Some stories wrap us in a blanket of beautiful escape with happy endings, predictable paths or fantastical places our mind’s eyes could never dream up on their own. Places where fairies ride winged unicorns, teleportation is real, and the boy always gets the girl. Places with wonder. Hope. Peace.

Others leave us exhausted and out of breath as we wrestle right alongside the characters in their races against time and evil and injustice. As if our lives were on the line. As if we couldn’t simply shut the book or flip off the screen and walk away. We can’t. Sometimes stories grab us by the shoulders and hold us under until The End.

Whatever your reason for seeking out the power of story, I hope the ones I create will connect with you on some level. I hope they help you escape the doldrums or tedious drama of daily life—if only for a little while.

I hope they cause you to remember.

To notice.

To dream.

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on the first Friday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.