By Esther Velez
Alex Ruiz, one of the writers on this site, recently went through a series of his top five favorite anime couples (you can read it here). It was a great series and if the comments are any testament, we all enjoyed it. There was one post, #2 on the list, that really struck a chord with me, though. We watched the short video Alex posted at the end, and 3/5 of those watching were left in tears. And not just a few tears, but tears streaming from puffy, red eyes onto equally puffy, red faces.
There’s something different about that kind of cry. You are sad, but it isn’t like someone you love has left or you’re being punished for something you’ve done. Somehow or other, you’ve made a connection with a character or a story, and you’ve gotten so invested with them that this emotional situation – whatever it might be – has left you in a puddle of tears.
I’ve been thinking on the power of stories lately. My sister told me of a line that stuck out to her in The Great Gatsby and I told her that the author had done his job correctly. He had gotten her to think about his story long after he was dead. Another sister of mine told me about a book she didn’t like and how she disagreed with the ending. While I agreed with her analysis, looking back on it, the author of that book did her job correctly as well. Regardless of personal opinion, she got us talking about her book, long after she’d closed the document, long after my sister had finished reading it. The fact that my sister had an opinion for how she wanted the book to end, or at least was unsatisfied with it, shows how much she had invested into the story and those characters.
But why do we get so invested in characters and stories? Why do we want to know what happens next in the lives of our favorite characters or at the end of the episode on TV? A quote from the movie Shadowlands puts it perfectly: “We read to know we are not alone.” That’s right. We read to know we are not alone. What does that even mean? That we’re all depressed loners who search inside of books, TV shows, and video games for friends? I don’t think so.
When we read stories (or watch them unfold in movies and TV shows), we encounter human beings, and if not actual humans, then beings with human-like characteristics. We join with them on the journey that is the story to see where they’ve been and where they are going. But we also see ourselves in them, even if in a small way. We watch a particular show and in one episode, a character says something and we agree with them in our mind. Yes, I’ve felt that way before. Yes, I have dreamed about that as well. Yes, someone has done this to me before. We may not realize it, but stories often show us things we are not willing to see in ourselves. Let me explain.
I recently read an article about a man who had lived in an RV while getting his Master’s degree and wrote a book about it. He said that he felt compelled to write because people need stories. Stories give them the power to feel certain things, to realize that they are not the only ones who have felt something before. This writer said that other writers need to be brave and pick up their pens and tell stories so people can have the power to feel these things. Almost like they can have permission to feel these things. And it might be subtle. It doesn’t have to be overly dramatic.
And that’s where the quote from Shadowlands comes in. We aren’t necessarily picking up a book saying, “I’m reading this to know that I’m not alone.” But we are reading to see other humans interact with each other. We’re reading to see people overcome obstacles. We’re reading to see characters change. We’re reading because we need these in our lives: we need to interact with one another, we need to overcome obstacles, and we need change. And, sometimes, the strength in a character can spill over into our own lives. There are stories and characters that I’ve experienced that have deeply affected the way I see the world. There are characters that are alive in my mind, so to speak, that feel real and I feel like I know them, even though they aren’t real. I’m not being creepy about this. Just think about your favorite character and story of all time.
Stories are super important. Just ask Jesus. He used stories to convey his messages all the time in the Bible. Stories stick with us. The made up ones, and even the real ones, have this strange power when we invest in them, when we connect with the characters and follow them on the journey that is their story. I have some questions for you guys! Has a story impacted you? (It could be fiction or non-fiction – it doesn’t matter.) What’s your favorite character or story of all time, and why? Let’s talk about that in the comments section. I’ll even join you guys in the discussion down there 🙂
Let’s get to talking!
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