Why Stories Give Life Meaning

once-upon-a-time1As my two-year-old daughter begs me for another story, it makes me think about the power of stories in our lives.

The child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, maintained that children’s fairy tales speak directly to the human subconscious, helping children to make sense of a chaotic world. This is because fairy tales and folklore have essentially been distilled in the telling, from one generation to the next. The verbal aspect of telling stories to children being of huge importance as each story is tweaked according to the immediate reaction of the child.

However, fiction is important to adults too. The universal importance of fiction to human beings can’t be denied.

We are immersed in stories in our daily lives. There are the anecdotes we share with each other every day, our favourite novels, TV shows and songs, not to mention daily news feeds through social media and increasingly the creation of fictional worlds in gaming. It’s something marketers have noticed some time ago – selling their products with a story is hugely effective. Even when we sleep, our brains are creating dream stories.

However, it is not simply a matter of entertainment or escapism. Modern studies in evolutionary psychology show that humans depend on the construction of narrative to exist. We narrate to create order in a chaotic world. Our ability to ‘spin a yarn’ is not some accidental by-product of evolution. It is essential to our survival. In the race for the ‘survival of the fittest’, the tale-telling humans won. It’s more than the educational aspect of sharing vital information; our ability to imagine that something might be painful or a bad ‘idea’ protects us from danger. Imagining what the future will be like keeps us moving forward. What would we be doing right now, if we couldn’t conjure up a fictional tomorrow?

In this digital age, the rise of clubs such as The Moth Club proves that there’s still an appetite for the old fashioned art of verbal storytelling. The gathering together of a group to share stories is much more than a social event. It is well known that the sharing of stories (and even the writing of stories that no one may ever read) is therapeutic. The cathartic effect of group storytelling is already well known. Many Arts therapists use a method called ‘the six-part story’, to facilitate a sort of indirect and nonintrusive communication of experience. Narrative therapy helps people to write – and if necessary redefine – their own life story and to defend their personal story rights. The story we believe about ourselves has a huge impact on our mental health.

The global organisation, Narrative4, believes that sharing stories has the potential to be life changing. I plan to learn more about it Wednesday, November 5th here in UL. In the meantime, I’m off to read my little girl another story.

~Linda Fennelly

Advertisements

Truth, Fiction and my Grandmother’s Diary

4892370217_0ee2dee629_zThe truth is a strange thing in fiction. We students of the MA in Creative Writing are becoming familiar with the idea that fiction needs to be more believable than reality – that grey, unfathomable world.

I imagine most writers see the fictional world as superior to the real one. We are closer to our characters than to the people we touch and see. Fiction’s truth comes from empathy; whereas reality’s truth comes from fact and we would much rather empathise than be knowledgeable.

And, of course, every act of writing is an act of fictionalizing – that passing through language into the world of subjectivity. And this is the main reason truth eludes not only fiction writers but everyone who speaks or even sees; all of us subjecting the world to interpretation: passing it through the medium of language and the soul.

But that does not mean we don’t owe a duty to the truth, or at least to the capital ‘t’ ‘Truth’ when we are writing fiction.

It is (actually) easy to dismiss reality when you hear about the man who woke up at his own funeral or when the woman next door has a baby without ever knowing she was pregnant or when you run into your first cousin walking down the street in Kolkatta. The joke: “you couldn’t write this stuff!” becomes mantra, because the reality is simply not that believable.

But the best writers haven’t lost sight of truth and are not afraid of it, no matter how ridiculous it is. They know how to tell all of it and tell it slant.

My grandmother always kept a Diary. Sometimes an entry would just be a word or two: “Mary’s debs” and other times there would be a full entry recounting a day trip to Dun Laoghaire, the first day of a new job, thoughts, feelings, hopes for the future and so on. It’s not always proper to read someone’s (secret! shh!) diary but I do remember sitting in my Grandmother’s living room once and she had her hands folded on her lap as my aunt read out an entry where her daughter moves to France. We were wide-eyed with intrigue; pleased to be included in this secret world. And my grandmother didn’t mind much, all those years later.

And the intrigue that most people have for these (secret! shh!) documents made me think about the truth and the ways in which we release our private little truths. Because I think diaries are important. I think they can help us unravel our confusion about the world. And I think people don’t keep diaries enough these days. We are consuming media at an extreme rate: we blog, we create profiles and persona and characters for ourselves. We instagram our photos and filter them and fictionalize our lives. But we are losing touch with the things that bring us close to who we are.

Writers who keep diaries know themselves. They write the truth about themselves in ugly ways. Anyone who’s ever written a diary entry will know how it feels to read back years later and cringe. But the cringe factor is invaluable when it comes to fiction. Writers who keep diaries write fiction which expresses an intangible truth; a cringey truth; a truth which makes readers say things like: “is this about you?” which, no matter how frustrating, is a huge compliment.

~Niamh Donnelly

Flash Fiction Wanted

flash-fictionDon’t forget that our editors here at The Ogham Stone are interested in all types of great writing, and they know that sometimes the best things come in the smallest packages.

Made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s short-short story ‘For sale: Baby shoes, never worn’, flash fiction is increasingly popular, with thousands of national and international competitions each year. The concept is about maximising the impact while minimising the word count, and it can make for some powerful fiction.

Can you tell a great story in just 250 words? Do you have a short and sharp piece of fiction in your portfolio?

If so, submit your piece to us before the deadline of November 2nd. Check out our submissions page for all the details: https://theoghamstoneul.wordpress.com/submit/

Go on…flash your fiction in our direction!

Call for Submissions

Torn Ogham Stone Logo 1

If you’ve got words or pictures, we want them!

The Ogham Stone, the University of Limerick’s literary and visual arts journal invites all writers and artists to submit work for a stunning publication due out next February.

M.A students in Creative Writing and M.A students in English have come together to mastermind this journal, which they promise will be cutting edge. Already they have bagged new work by Donal Ryan, author of The Spinning Heart, to feature in this edition of The Ogham Stone and Joseph O Connor will provide the forward.

There is no time to delay. Closing date for submissions is 2nd November, 2014.

E-mail your prose, poetry and non-fiction to oghamstoneul@gmail.com

For full submission guidelines, see https://theoghamstoneul.wordpress.com/submit/

Go on – you know you want to!