At the beginning of my first semester of sophomore year, I sat in on the first session of a course titled “Reading Fiction for Craft.” It was pretty standard fare for a first class: the professor introduced himself, spoke a bit about the course, and then posed a question to all of us: Why write stories? I didn’t end up taking the class, but that question stayed with me through the school year and the intervening summer, and I think it’s about time I answered it fully, for myself and for you guys as well. So, why do I write stories, and why should we write stories?
First off, stories are just fun. There’s just something utterly magnetic about a good story told well, something that makes it completely irresistible and keeps us turning the pages until the early morning hours. Captivating characters, enrapturing plots, fantastical settings... Stories are adventures, pure and simple, that we can have anywhere and at anytime. What could be more wonderfully fun than that? This reason is just as valid and powerful as any other to write or tell tales. Stories can help us add a little joy and magic to the world, and this is something well worth doing.
Second, stories open us up to the lives and experiences of others, which can make us treat each other better. Studies have shown that well-read individuals generally feel more empathy toward strangers and people who are different from them than those who don’t read as much. This is likely due to the uniquely vicarious nature of the story: they take us out of our own experiences and force us to live the life of another, giving us, in some small way kinship and understanding with them. This kinship and understanding can go a very long way, given that empathy is one of the main drivers of altruistic behavior. It's almost impossible, for example, to read the novel Brother, I'm Dying and not think more compassionately about immigration in America. Stories, in other words, can make us care more about the well-being of others, which can in turn make us better world citizens.
Third, and most importantly for me, stories are my most powerful tool for saying what I have to say. Because of their unique ability to take us inside the mind and life of another person, stories can deliver messages much more forcefully than speeches or reports. It’s one thing to hear statistics about sexual assault on college campuses, and a completely different (and far more powerful) thing to read a well-written story about a sexual assault. Good stories are essentially impossible to read without reacting powerfully, or feeling deeply, and this makes them truly powerful means of spreading messages. Ever time I sit down to write I feel that potential, know that what I write could one day make a difference. Stories, quite simply, really make me believe that I might just be able to change the world, either by sending a powerful message and changing the way people treat each other, or simply by adding a little bit of wonder to the world. What could be a better reason than that?
With Excitement and Optimism,