One of my earliest memories is me lying on the bed while my dad was reading me a story. It is so early I’m not even sure if it is a real memory, or rather something I’ve picked up along the way and made it mine. I don’t remember what the story was. But I do remember how it felt to be told a story.

Stories are ways of telling one another things that matter. Telling them without simply describing them, without lecturing about them, and without forcing our moral conclusions on the audience.

I’m not only talking about popular tales, short stories, novels and the like. We are storytelling creatures and we structure our experiences and our past along narrative lines. The way we see ourselves becomes our story. One that we rewrite and redefine as we go along.

Dia de Muertos in Brussels (2019). This Mexican holiday is associated with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (1st and 2nd of November). What sets it apart is the atmosphere of celebration rather than mourning.

Long before we set out to tell a story, we listen to or read countless other stories. From grandma’s tales to the latest psychological thriller, we live among narratives. Many of them become part of us. We learn, consciously or not, about different story patterns and plots. About how good storytelling feels.

Dia de Muertos in Brussels (2019). Three women prepare themselves as the procession is about to start.

When telling stories or listening to them, we rely on this implicit knowledge of what a story is and how it should be told. We don’t need to know about narrative arc, plot and conflict in order to feel that some stories feel right and others not so much.

We are wired to look for stories, understand them as stories and extract personal meaning from them.

That’s why good stories are at the same time personal and universal. They speak to us directly, as if they were written for us. And they do the same with countless other people.

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