“Your story made me cry”: The Impact of Fiction on Readers
Some years ago, I used to do performance literature, which is where you take a piece of your writing and you perform (interpret) it. One piece I was performing was a story of a doctor who had to pull the breathing tube on a newborn in an operating room during triage. While a lot of stories of this type of narrative focus on the emotions of the doctor, or something equally tragic, this story focused on the fact that the baby, who was too small to survive, was going to die, but no matter what else was going on in the chaos of that operating room, the baby wouldn’t die. So everyone in the operating room had to keep working through their other dramas as this infant was fighting its last moments of life. The linking line from each scene was “and the baby was still breathing….” I interwove this narrative with a story I had written about a man who shows up for work one day in a job where everyone lives a mundane life where nothing changes, and on this one day, a co-worker goes nuts, killing everyone all because he was that one guy in the office that no one ever took seriously. To describe the experience of those two stories linked together, it was like riding a rollercoaster, going from humor to tragedy to horror to shock and back to humor again. All linked with “and the baby was still breathing….”
Anyway, it was one of those pieces that received a lot of positive praise at the time, but years later, I completely forgot about it. I was serving as an assistant debate coach a decade later and at a speech tournament when this person I didn’t recognize walked up to me and said: “Holy crap! It’s you! You made me cry one day!” I looked at this guy, who was rather large and intimidating, and to be honest, I couldn’t imagine ever being able to make this guy cry, unless I had hit him with a crowbar, right before running the other direction because it would not have done any damage. But then he started describing the story I described earlier and said that he remembered walking out of that room and crying for a long time because of the impact of that story. He said he’s never forgotten it.
And I believed him because it had been over ten years, and there was no way anyone could have remembered a simple story for ten years and then remember who told it to him unless it made some sort of an impact.
And that’s when I realized the true impact of being a writer. Over the years, I’ve written a lot of stories, some funny, some tragic and some heart-breaking. Each…