The kind of stories we read matters, because reading can affect who we are.
Although scientific research in this area is still young, I believe reading constructive, life-expanding fiction is an important component in a healthy lifestyle. That why when I write a story, I try to integrate 5 characteristics of life-expanding stories, which I believe promote 5 healthy reactions when you read them:
Delve into the story. Become a part of it. We don’t just read stories for information, but for experience as well. And not just for own experiences, either, but also for the experiences of the story’s characters. Deep characters enable us to live roles we otherwise could not understand, to descend into their minds and motivations, to see the world from someone else’s point of view. That’s empathy, a core skill.
Engage with the story. Invest yourself in how the story turns out. Strong plot arcs urge the story on, dragging us ever onward with it toward its ultimate conclusion. The drama of the story weaves its way into the characters’ lives. We care, because it affects them personally. That’s compassion, a key value.
Seek meaning, because stories make wisdom live. A story that merely entertains yields but a fleeting effect, but a story that edifies builds up the rest of one’s life. But rarely does a good story throw truth in your face. You must search for it. What does this story tell us of human nature? Of good and evil? Of the way people perceive the world and the way they meet their needs? How can this story help us to understand the world around us? Then…
Ask what these truths mean for you. Have you been overlooking an important life principle? Have you acted cruelly because you didn’t understand or respect someone? Do you need to reconsider parts of your worldview? These are often the hardest moments of reading a story, because they challenge our preconceptions. We may dismiss them, or even become angry at them— Imagine that! Becoming angry at a bunch of words on a page. Yet we all do. And sometimes, that’s because those words are speaking deeply to our spirits, and we don’t want to listen.
Hope for the future. Refocus on your vision, notice the possible ways you might reach that goal, and resolve to pursue it. A good story should open our eyes to possibilities, or at least remind us of possibilities we might have forgotten. And it should inspire us on, not with pie-in-the-sky hype—as so many inspirational speakers use—but with clarity of purpose. The “You can do it, too” message. This is one of the most important things we can get out of a good story, as our Western society suffers from a dearth of healthy hope, and it’s one of the reasons I like stories with plausible happy endings.
So here’s to all the stories you read, whether fiction or nonfiction. May they forever cause you to Delve, Engage, Seek, Ask, Hope.