Storytelling has existed since the first humans turned grunts and utterances into words and phrases. It was as essential for survival as flint and fire. Once basic needs such as food and shelter are met, we quickly turn to an innate desire for telling and hearing stories. As a new author, I find myself examining this human need of the story. What purpose does it serve, what hole does it fill?
On the surface, storytelling helps us learn from the past and imagine the future. Historical fiction and science fiction are as popular today as they have ever been. History is best remembered as a story and whoever tells it best shapes the past. Would we have walked on the moon without fiction imagining it first? Would we have the wonders of today, without the ability to stand on the mountaintop of the lessons of the past?
I also believe it goes beyond our need to learn and imagine. Why do we still read books when we have television and movies? Yes, it’s all entertainment, but with the incredible visuals and immersive sound of today’s films, what keeps the written word alive? I think we also have a deep-seated need to connect with others. We hear what they say and watch what they do, but we know that’s often not what they genuinely think or feel. It’s through a colored lens of self-conscious filters and social norms. We want to get underneath to know if we are unique or the same as our fellow humans.
A written novel allows us that gift to climb inside another’s mind and see what they are thinking. That’s why the best fiction is honest. Is honest fiction an oxymoron? Sure, fiction is a lie, but it’s a lie that reveals truths. And exceptional fiction doesn’t tell you what to believe but invites you to find your own insights. A wonderful story doesn’t tell the tale or the theme through narration, it shows through the actions and dialog of the characters. When an author gets this right, we see the story come alive in our mind and we examine the themes through our own life experiences. We feel the story and that is a bit of real magic that only avid readers know.
Another trait of remarkable storytelling is conflict. While violence is optional, conflict is unavoidable. Much of popular fiction today is a steady stream of continuous conflict, hostile or otherwise. Conflict magnifies what matters. Human spirit is strengthened through conflict. Change rarely happens without conflict and readers want characters who change. They understand that nothing can be changed until it is faced. The more intense the confrontation, the more profound the change, the more splendid the success. They want to see positivity rise from confrontation. They want to know that change and growth are possible.
In the end, stories might be the most valuable legacy that we can create. Paintings will fade and sculptures will crumble, but stories can be retold forever. Storytelling is still the most effective way to encourage empathy and understanding in our culture. There is power in stories and that power is the ability to move people to think. And what can be more important today than thinking deeply about our world, our civilization, and ourselves.
Kevin A. Kuhn is an award-winning and best-selling author. His debut novel Do You Realize? won five literary awards and spent time as an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Time Travel in four countries. His most recently released collection of short stories Ten Tales of a Dark Tomorrow won the Foreword Indie annual book award for best short story collection, along with two other literary awards. His books can be found on Amazon or ordered through your local bookstore. Kevin resides in Eden Prairie along with his wife Melinda and their three children.
By Kevin A. Kuhn