"It's Just a Story": We Underestimate the Power of Literature

Originally published at: https://shanniiwrites.com/2018/03/30/its-just-a-story-we-underestimate-the-power-of-literature/

Literature is a powerful tool that gives us so much information on how we and others see the world. So, we need to start giving it the credit it deserves!


I think that you can read a story just for the sake of reading and you don’t have to search out the moral of the story. That said, I do agree with that writers have to be responsible and there are good and bad stories hehe.

The power of stories. The reason Bran the Broken got chosen as the new king lol. It’s a good story, like Tyrion said. That is very true despite what’s being said about the last season of GoT.

Also stories are sooo powerful, they can rewrite history. History is written by the winners and I wonder how much we got wrong haha.

We should definitely think about what we glorify! But also be critical readers.


I never got the thought that “it’s just a story” even though most of the time I use reading for escapism. Even if I don’t actively search for the moral of the story, there’s always something that stays on my mind for longer. Every story has some kind of impact, even if the author didn’t intended it to be like that.
But I think some books just don’t have an important enough message to stick in your head for a longer time. For me, it has to be a really really good story so I get affected by it for a longer time and keep the moral of the story in my head

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Literature is powerful.

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Literature is important but the way most educations approach it, makes it hard for young people to enjoy it. (in fact my whole insecurity started because I couldn’t keep up with the level of reading and school not supporting it well enough)

@Writers maybe check out this blog if you haven’t already? I think it might be in your interest to read this if you need motivation to keep writing your stories.


Is it really a come-back if I don’t make one of my long posts discussing the importance and impact of literature?
Probably not. So here I am.

“It’s just a story” some say, “it’s just fiction” if we’re talking in broader terms.
Well then, I guess my entire major is nothing, right?
As someone who has dedicated most of their life to literature, I have a very particular bone to pick with these lines.
What I’m gonna talk about applies to most (if not all) forms of art, but for the sake of the discussion I’ll stick to applying it to literature.

In short: what we read has the power to shape our minds.
As Plato said, stories have the power to “move our souls”. Everything we read changes us in some way. Everything we read gives us something to think about.
Here’s the thing, thought: giving us something to think about is not the same as changing our mind. Not right away, at least.
I am very attached to a lot of stories, all of which have impacted my life in a way, directly or indirectly. My personality and worldview have been heavily influenced from what I’ve read, and that’s the power stories have.
When, in The Two Towers, Samwise Gamgee said

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Those words are some of the most impactful ones I’ve every read in my life. Not only because of how meta they are, with Sam talking about “the great stories” in a book i consider “a great story” itself. But because those words are so so full of hope and the will to continue fighting. This is a personal experience, of course, and i don’t expect people to have the exact same experience I’ve had. But Sam talking about those stories motivating him? That motivates me. That helps me keep going, keep fighting.
Stories will always leave an impact on us, an impression. That impression can range from “whew, that was boring/crappy/whatever” to saving a life. And that’s why no story will ever be “just a story”, they become part of our history, our mindset, our identity.

Just to quote more examples of stories having a positive impact on people, in a community, this time, I wanna address how fiction and music give a voice to the oppressed. During the Brazilian dictatorship, they used fiction and music to express their ideas and dislike towards the government in a way that couldn’t be shut down.
I’m going to go on a tangent for a second, but this it the impact and importance of oral stories and popular songs: they keep the people alive even when those in power want to end with them. And they can give the people the strength to get through dark times and get somewhere better.

Of course, the impact of these stories can’t always be positive. And in a lot of cases it isn’t.
Be it discomfort or twisting how one perceives the world, stories are a dangerous thing, and they must be consumed properly. David Hume compared reading to wine tasting: according to him experienced wine tasters would be able to taste a slight metal if they were to drink from a bottle with a key inside. But inexperienced or unknowing people drinking from it wouldn’t be able to tell, thus risking choking on said key.
So it is on readers to develop their reading and critical thinking skills. And they can only do that through reading and studying and discussing what they’ve read and studied.

So if anyone has stuck with me for this long, I’m telling you: read. Read all you want, read all you need. Enjoy what you read. Discuss what you read. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you can taste the key.

And writers, it is our duty to make things that are appropriate to our audience. I’m not going to go on a rant about the ablative case in Latin and how there’s no ablative in Ancient Greek to someone who doesn’t know Latin or Ancient Greek. So why would I publish a story for an audience who may not be able to understand the nuance in it? We gotta be mindful of who is reading our stuff, and what it may carry.
Of course, we can’t have complete control over who reads what we write. But we can have control over what platform we use, and who we share the content directly with.

Lastly I want to mention that while, yes, fiction affects how we perceive and interact with our realities, this is not grounds for censorship. A person writing or reading about darker themes in fiction is not necessarily a bad person, and art is great in the way that, yes, we can explore darker topics without hurting people or actively doing questionable things.

But just like movies have ratings, not all fiction is for all audiences. And like streaming sites or even food labels have content warnings, we writers should label what we write so a reader does not go into the story unknowingly. And readers should mind said labels and refrain from things that may harm them.


It’s the next morning for me again, so it’s time for the next @Bloggers reminder. This one is for Shani’s third blog post. There is power behind what you or anyone says and writes, even if they’re all fictional words. What do you think?

Remember that if you really enjoyed this blog, feel free to recommend it (it’s similar to liking it). This will help with it being higher in the results of search engines too.


thank you, Cal! I will read it while I eat lunch, it looks really good! :star:


You’re very welcome. Thank you so much for your help, it really is appreciated SO MUCH!

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Ooh yes, I know I’m definitely going to love this one.


this one’s one of my favourite topics ngl
time to revisit the article :3


it’s no problem! I appreciate what you guys do for the forums as well :heart:

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(wink) Just trying to ensure this place can keep chugging along!

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yesss! i’ll be sure to do my part too :)))

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Just adding a tag

okay, wow :joy: There’s a lot to unpack on this topic and I feel like you did it expertly :]
All in all, I agree with pretty much every single point. It’s a scary thing to think about; that we can be brainwashed and influenced by books - but it’s completely and utterly true.
If people grow up reading stories that portray killers as saviors, then they will grow up to see and respect those killers as saviors, h-ll, they’ll even defend those killers aggressively should someone challenge their viewpoints.
Stories shape us, like, as you said, sandpaper. A little nudge hear. A scrape there. An insinuation here. Even if it’s not conscious, our unconscious minds are constantly devouring things like that, and it will inevitably alter us, our personalities and our expectations of the world.

Using myself as an example, one contributor to my naivety in life is books. Books that told me that your friends are always right and will never hurt you. As a result I got manipulated by them. Books that told me it’s ok for your romantic partners to pressure you into things you don’t want to do. You can imagine the result of that. Books that never allowed for the fact that I was young and impressionable, and very likely to believe the supposedly perfect worlds they spun out. Books that taught me to ignore the pain that came with the perfection. I am still learning, and still young, but I know there are people even more affected by stories that weren’t thought out enough than me. I hope for their sakes and my own that authors grow a little sense, especially on sites like episode, where stories can be accessed and devoured so quickly it’s unreal.
On a brighter side, I learnt majority of my communication skills (not that I have many but hey) through examining how fictional characters interacted. I learned how to cope with my emotions, and while that did come with some harmfull compulsive independency, it did help in those early tough years. Literature has a power that we can scarcely imagine. Books can be a little kid’s best friend when they have no others, but only if the authors respect the child’s impressionability and work through it, instead of being careless with it.
So yea, words have power, and it would be foolish to underestimate them.

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i get so excited whenever this thread has new msgs bc it’s one of my fave topics to discuss haha

so i hope you don’t mind me replying to some of the things you’ve said ^^

first of all,

*cough* colonisation stories *cough cough*

not onto more serious discussion haha
yeah, you’re right, stories shape us
but it’s important to highlight that they’re not the only things that can shape us, which is why discussing said stories with others and reading analyses on them is so important: stories can change our perspective on things, of course, but discussing and analysing them further is what allows our perspectives to cement in our minds (or change once again). of course, stories themselves shape us too (i would not be who i am today had i not picked up reading as i did when i was a child), but we cannot give them the entire credit. said credit goes to others, too, and to ourselves.
Oscar Wilde proposed in the foreword of The Picture of Dorian Gray that “It is the spectator […] that art really mirrors”. humans are not a blank slate, so what we read isn’t immediately gonna translate into what we believe or anything like that. instead, what we read, the ideas and perspectives proposed in the story enter a dialogue with the ideas and perspective we have already, which is why two people can have very different takeaways from the same story.
at the same time, conversation -and especially talking with someone who’s more knowledgable on a topic than we are- helps a lot when it comes to clearing up misconceptions or anything that may be of conflict for the reader. This is why it’s so important to discuss things and to do research on literature, because it’s the best way to see things from a different perspective, and to have a more solid interpretation of what happens in a story, which could possibly become a part of ourselves later on.

now, on your own experience… i’m so terribly sorry that happened to you, no one should go through that. and honestly the example you give is why target audiences and content warnings are so important. not every story is for everyone, but that doesn’t mean the stories are bad.
for example, i’d never recommend Lolita or Jane Eyre to kids under 16 (and that’s pushing it, honestly), or recommend Russian existentialist literature to someone who struggles with depressive or suicidal thoughts, or recommend Lovecraft to those who can’t see the racism in his works, and so on. There’s an audience for each book, and if it falls in the wrong hands, it can cause a lot of damage, even if the author did not intend to. also content warnings! (lmao can you tell AO3 has me spoiled?) it’s important that the reader knows what they’re getting into when they start a story, both so the contents won’t possibly harm them, and so they can think critically about what they’re about to read.
and hoo boy, critical reading is so important as well (but to be able to do so readers have to have more experience and knowledge, which, again, can be acquired through research or talking to someone, or just by reading a lot). i mentioned earlier that David Hume, in The Standard of Taste compares reading to wine tasting, and said only seasoned wine tasters can taste a key at the bottom of the barrel, just like seasoned readers can take a text with more nuance. which is, again, why one can’t give any book to just anyone. but this is responsibility of the author, the publisher, the ones in charge of distribution, and the reader themself, not just the writer.

lastly, as you said, literature can teach us a lot about… almost anything, i think? and that’s the beauty of it, literature can be there in anything, it can talk about anything. books were my best friend from ages six to sixteen, as you said they could be.
and i’m really happy to find someone else who’s learnt so much and grown through books!
i hope they can keep helping you, and that stories (and other people) help you keep growing, so that the stories can grow along with you :3


of course not! like you said, I wouldn’t be who I am today without books, I was just commenting on some of the more drastic consequences of careless writing. Truth be told, a lack of personal experience in those areas was partly to blame too XD. I had nothing to compare my books to, after all.

Yes!!! The teaching thing too!
That’s why representation - proper representation in literature is important for any community. Stories contribute to a huge factor of what we perceive as ‘normal’. Seeing things in literature familiarises us to it, meaning me aren’t so alienated from those people in real life. If those characters don’t exist in stories, then they’re already seen as ‘weird’ and ‘unnatural’ and ‘other’ by everyone who’s read all those books

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you’re so right about the representation thing oml
personal experience but man the first time i saw a book with an nb character who went by they/them i was 19 years old and let me tell you, my punk ass started crying right there (on the floor of a bookshop, no less)
it’s so so so so important to have representation in books and i’m honestly so happy that kids are now able to see themselves more represented in media

you get me