Hard-wired for Story
The organic world is mostly phototropic. Like plants and moths, people gravitate toward the light. In fact, the longing to stare at the sun can risk sunburned eyeballs, even damaged retinas.
Without the deleterious side effects, storytelling has always wielded similar magnetism.
Since humans have been humans, they’ve told stories. That’s because
According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. — Leo Widrich,“The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains”
You’re a novelist in a world crowded with obligations and distractions competing for attention. When children—and grownups—beg “Tell me a story,” they want to hear a great one. How can the storytelling instinct help you attract readers and keep them engaged?
It’s no accident that any writing coach will insist that it’s needed on every page. Interrupt the story, and you interrupt reader connection with it. That connection, of course, is why readers care about characters and why fiction has always been a means for cultural instruction:
in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention–-a scarce resource in the brain–-by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters — Paul J. Zak, “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling”
Unless each—each rather than some or most!—event in the novel determines what follows, the novelist offers the randomness of life rather than the meticulously shaped progression of story.
A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. — Leo Widrich
Different cultures certainly express human emotions differently. But the emotions themselves remain constant. That’s why stories let people vicariously bleed under the lash of slavery, recoil at the stench of a dragon’s breath, shiver in the trenches of a battlefield, or bask in the awe of a kiss from the spouse you’ve loved for fifty years.
Tip: The greatest stories spring from capitalizing on the human instinct for narrative.