I once had someone on campus tell me, “There is no need for stories.” What would someone’s life be if they never heard a story? I believe a life without stories is a life without empathy, imagination and unfathomable truth.
The best way to understand someone is to walk in their shoes or hear a story from their perspective. One of the strongest ways for us to be citizens of the world is to listen to and tell stories from other cultures. We often tell fiction to our children to increase their sense of empathy. Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” illustrates this need for empathy on the backdrop of a world built on hate for an entire species. To combat this perceived threat, the world leaders have created a space academy to train six year olds to become ruthless commanders and destroy the aliens. The main character, Ender Wiggin, states, “I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” In his training to kill or be killed, he holds on to the hope of peace through understanding.
Stories inspire imaginations and inspire other storytellers. A young french boy was sitting in a tent one day when he saw a film reel of a train leaving a station. This boy was inspired by the use of film and created his own production company. His name was Georges Méliès, and he directed some of the first works of film fiction, including “A Trip to the Moon” (1902). In the time before digital effects, Méliès launched people into space, choreographed mermaid battles under the ocean and convinced audiences of his feats using nothing more than cutouts and clever filmmaking. The imagination leads to possibilities in the real world. The first astronauts walked on the moon because science fiction stories, like Méliès’, convinced them it was possible. There is no doubt that Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” (2015) has already intrigued the thoughts of NASA.
All stories are founded in reality because all stories are thought up by real people. Stories reflect life, but they can also illuminate an angle of life people cannot describe. This angle of life can only be felt and experienced, and stories have the power to illustrate this angle. Fiction comes the closest to describing this angle of life because it relies on a principle known as suspension of disbelief. This principle means anyone can enjoy a story without falling into crippling depression from the events in the story. The story is not real and is interpreted as an overdramatization of real aspects of life. Oftentimes, these overdramatized moments are the most accurate depictions of life. What moment pulls on the heart more? Is it the death of a side character or the loss of the protagonist’s best friend? Is it the single hums from an individual or the glorious eruption from a whole choir? Is it the handshakes exchanged between friends or the family reunions of those long separated? All of these events happen in real life, but only the overdramatized ones capture a piece of our existence more than a simple essay could.
Stories are powerful because they promote empathy, inspire creativity and address the tender, unfathomable parts of our lives. Fiction is necessary. Facts, science, psychology and mathematics can describe life, but only fiction, art, music and stories can reveal life.