Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Power of Story by Heidi Chiavaroli

Heidi Chiavaroli
Story is powerful.

I’m not the only one claiming this fact. Now, science is backing up the assertion that story has the ability to change the way we think, to change the way we even act.

At a writer’s retreat a couple years back, I listened to an inspiring presentation by author Tessa Afshar, in which she spoke of the incredible power of story. As I tried to pull together this blog post, I berated myself for not taking notes. Lucky for me a search online brought up a 2012 New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul, in which she explores Your Brain On Fiction.

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated,” Paul writes.

When we read of metaphors, textures, and scents imparted to us in rich words, the same places of our brain that are stimulated when actually experiencing these things are roused when we read them. 

A powerful story can even go beyond this. The same way the brain responds to smells and textures as if we were truly experiencing them, so the brain also responds to a character’s heartaches, happiness, and frustrations as if they are our own. We can learn from make-believe characters. We can become more empathetic to those around us. We can hone our social skills simply by picking up a book.

Wow. Great news for those of us who already love a good story.

As I read this scientific evidence, I thought of the Master Storyteller. Many times, Jesus taught with a story. The Parable of the Lost Sheep certainly has a deeper impact on His listeners than if Jesus simply said, “God loves the lost with a passion you can’t imagine.”

Instead, we can see ourselves in that story—alone and afraid, and yes, as a sheep! It doesn’t matter. God made His point in this story and many others, as well as in His entire Word—one huge, beautiful story of His love for us.

So I don’t know about you, but next time I’m wrapped up in a good novel I won’t feel quite so guilty about the laundry not getting done. After all, I’m not just reading. I’m improving my social skills. I’m relishing a creation. I’m becoming a more empathetic person.          

And who can argue with the power behind that?


Heidi Chiavaroli writes History Woven in Grace. She is a wife, mother, disciple, and grace-clinger. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and has finaled in the Genesis contest and My Book Therapy’s Frasier contest.


  1. Now I know why I don't read suspense! Shiver!! This is really a great article, Heidi!

  2. I know I'm into the story when I come across facial expressions (grimace, frown) and find myself doing them along with the character! :) As usual, wonderful post, Heidi!

    1. Oh, you're not the only one who does that, Sandy. ;) Thanks!

  3. I've always believed in the power of story, but you've given me even more to think about! Great article, Heidi. Thanks!

  4. This is why personal story illustrations in sermons and speeches are so captivating and cause the audience to listen and remember. It's the story they tell.

    1. So true, Barbara! A personal story grabs and holds my attention much more than just straight talk. Great post, Heidi!

    2. Completely agree, Barbara. Jesus knew what he was doing. ;)


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