This draft on Medium is from a new book I’m working on. It’s inspired by my 100 WRITERS project, which is an indie support group for fiction writers. This year I met a lot more people who feel like they want to write stories and get them out, except that very often life happens and they keep forgetting. Find the story you really love, and you'll never lost sight of it.
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Spiders spin webs, birds build nests. Human beings make up stories to pass around.
Webs, nests, stories.
They’re alike. They create connections. They hold us together.
A story is an arrangement of related visions and feelings, carefully organised, and passed on from one human to another. If you changed the order, if you messed up the arrangement, you changed the story.
The dog bit the boy.
The boy bit the dog.
The boy saved the princess.
The princess saved the boy.
They saw the rainbow and then the world ended.
The world ended and then they saw the rainbow.
The proper order of story elements is like a secret code. It gives us a way to see, to think and to feel.
But where did this story code come from?
Stories were there at the beginning of our race.
People back then noticed the seasons changing, and came up with stories to explain why.
They observed differences in behaviour, how some people were outstandingly brave, while others were notoriously cowardly, and came up with stories to explain why.
They saw someone filled with so much love that he or she risked everything to do something difficult, even dangerous. And they came up with stories to explain why.
When they travelled, they saw unfamiliar animals, and they came up with stories about how these creatures were once human beings but were transformed into beasts, cursed, after making the gods angry.
When a child saw a rainbow and asked why, they made up a story.
Our ancestors would sit around after hunting, after digging, after fixing their stuff, after mating, after wandering around, after fighting, after beating the life out of their enemies, after trading, after looking out for danger, after crying because someone had died, after making a weapon, after fighting off invaders, after staring at the sky and the sea and then the stars or maybe the darkness that came when the moon refused to show itself, after they were done with all that, and they realised that there was still an emptiness inside them which needed to be filled, they would sit around, maybe out in the open, maybe in a cave, likely around a fire, and settle down to end their day with a sweet story.
They sat around a fire and this fire gave them light. With which to see, especially in the darkness of the cave.
This fire also gave them heat. Which they could feel. The heat on their skin, on their faces, on their arms and legs.
Also, if they were in a cave, this fire threw shadows on the walls around them. Made the shapes move and dance and flicker.
If they were out in the open, the fire would throw shadows on the ground, make them dart around, as if these shadowy forms were visitors from another world, here to join the listeners and share the story.
The fire created a sense of magic. Always it seemed alive, felt alive, made the world around them come alive.
Stories are supposed to be like that too.
Sharing stories felt so good that our ancestors couldn’t stop doing it. Generation after generation they would sit around and make up more stories and share them.
Stories to remember the good times.
Stories to remember the bad times.
It still feels good today. Which is why we continue to do it.
A clever storyteller was a prized member of the tribe. A good story, even told for the hundredth time, but told with cleverness and emotion, with freshness and enthusiasm, could help you forget your pain, survive the cold, ignore the rumblings of an empty tummy, find the courage to go to war, or just calm you down enough so you could go to sleep after a rough day.
A clever storyteller could awaken hope, love, ambition, zeal beyond reason.
Or sadness, rage, fear.
That’s why, for a long time, people thought stories were a form of magic.
In those primitive days, magic was anything that could affect your feelings in a strong way, or change your perception of the world around you.
After all, how did the storyteller plant those images in your head? Make you see those foreign lands, as if you had been there yourself? Bring to life those mesmerising characters, as if you had encountered them in the flesh? Stir in you those feelings of love, hate, wonder, surprise, curiosity, hope, anger, sorrow, regret, forgiveness, and more?
In those very early days, stories were told using pictures, objects, gestures, songs, symbols, dances, music. Until, over five thousand years ago, humans invented the art of writing.
From handwritten stories, we later developed more efficient ways to print the words, so that they could be shared with even more people.
So that the fire could be felt by others, across space and time.
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