What then is the good of—what is even the defence for—
occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened
and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid . . . ?
Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist . . . ?
The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being.
We want to be more than ourselves. . . . We want to see with other eyes,
to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts,
as well as with our own. . . .
We demand windows. . . .
—C. S. Lewis
(quoted in The Christian Imagination,
Leland Ryken, Editor)
The Christian faith is one about words, stories, and language. What other religion calls their god the Word? I firmly believe that the main reasons we humans love stories—both reading and writing them—is because God loves stories. Don't believe me? Let me refer you to the gospels where are recorded the parables (i.e., stories) Jesus told when trying to illustrate difficult theological points to His followers. Still don't believe me? Uh, how about the fact that we have that BOOK at all? God chose to reveal Himself to future generations through written words—and used the episodes and (mis-)adventures of His people to do so. More of the Bible is dedicated to revealing who and what God is through episodic events than through expository language . . . more showing, less telling.
When writing, I like to have images of my characters' houses as part of my storyboards, so that I can easily call to mind the setting. In looking at real estate listings with images of the homes available, I discovered that apparently, in the Midwest, it used to be popular to build houses with very few, small windows . . . or at least there were many of them in several different areas all on the market right now. Even though I keep my curtains closed—especially in the front of the house—most of the time, I love the fact that I have two windows in every room of my small house, and one in the bathroom. Having lived in an apartment (one window in the bedroom, sliding glass door in the living room) and a duplex (windows only on one side of the apartment) for eight years, I love the fact that I can see out all sides of my house. Not that the view is that great, but still . . . it means there's nothing blocking my ability to see out, to look out upon the "other worlds" of my neighbors' yards, or my backyard or front yard. I would feel so blocked in, cooped up, in a house with just a few, small windows—it would seem dark and suffocating.
This would be what the world would be like without stories. Stories open up the curtains that separate us from the rest of creation and let us experience what it's like to be someone else, to think like someone else, to "see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts," as Lewis put it. Steven King, in On Writing, calls it, "Telepathy, of course. . . . I'm writing the first draft of this part at my desk . . . on a snowy morning in December of 1997. . . . You are somwhere downstream on the timeline from me. . . . Let's assume that you're in your favorite [reading] place . . . We're not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . except we are together. We're close. We're having a meeting of the minds."
This "window" or "meeting of the minds" is unique to humans. Kids at summer camp tell ghost stories after lights-out—why? Because it's fun, because of the adrenaline rush fear brings . . . and because it's a way for everyone in the room to be thinking and feeling the same thing. We have certain friends we think of when we see funny bumper stickers ("Oh, I have to e-mail Corie about that when I get home!"). Or how many times have you walked into the house/office/church or wherever saying, "You're never going to belive what just happened to me," and then launch into a story of your near-miss with a cement truck or the man who just handed you $100 for returning his lost wallet?
Stories transcend spoken language; they transfix the mind; they transport us to other places, other times; they touch places inside of us we've never before experienced. Bookclubs—those where the members meet to discuss the book they've read, whether face-to-face or online—are so popular because having read the same story gives us something in common with someone we might never have connected with before . . . even if we don't agree on it!
I believe one of the reasons writers seek out the company of other writers is because we long for this kind of connection, this kind of "meeting of the minds" that transcends casual acquaintanceship. We seek a relationship based on a shared experience—based on the desire not just to look through the "windows" but to throw them open, to invite our neighbors to look out of their windows in through ours.
As you drive through a neighborhood at night, when you see a house with the lights on and the windows open, it's so easy to see inside, to see the people who live there. This is what we as writers do—leave the windows open so that readers can have some peek at what we are inside.
Kaye Dacus is the author of the Brides of Bonneterre series for Barbour. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and is a former Vice President and long-time member of American Christian Fiction Writers. A Louisiana native, she now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. She is currently celebrating the release of her latest Barbour title: Menu for Romance. To learn more about Kaye and her books, visit her online at kayedacus.com.
If you would like a copy of Kaye's latest book, post a comment here with your email address before Thursday, July 2 for entry into a drawing.