yes, stories should engage our imagination

Over a year ago, I was sitting down to a record a student who had asked for my assistance. A week or two before, I had visited his classroom and given advice to those who were willing to share their drafts. As he sat in my office, I asked him how he felt about what he had written. Maybe a little too quickly, he told me me that he didn’t begin his story by asking the reader to imagine what it might be life to experience something (a particular event regarding the loss of home). “No one can imagine what that’s like,” he protested.

I’m guessing he just didn’t find the time to revise his story, but I was taken aback at the time: Imagination is exactly what stories are for. Good stories, at least, are more effective in putting their viewer into another’s shoes, whether it’s a morality tale or entertainment. Sure, it’s not the same as getting first-hand experience, but we’re not saying it’s the same. Who hasn’t shed a tear or gotten excited with the characters in, say, a Pixar movie? It’s not because we know what it’s like to be a clownfish whose son is missing, but because we can imagine the pain and emotional turmoil of losing something or someone important to us.

I’ve touched on this in a little more detail before, but the concept of universal human themes in storytelling is an important idea to reiterate.