"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Monday, February 28, 2011

What We Bring To A Story

Last weekend, after the kids were snuggled in their beds, my husband and I settled down to watch Titanic. I was a sophomore in high school when the movie first came out and I watched it several times as a sixteen-year-old, completely engrossed in Jack and Rose's love story.

Last Saturday night, when I made the suggestion to dear hubby that we watch the movie, I looked forward to reliving the romance and adventure.

But I was in for a surprise. One scene (really a snip of a scene) shook me to the core and had tears pouring down my cheeks. And strangely enough, it had nothing to do with Jack and Rose. In fact, I had barely noticed the scene when watching Titanic as a starry-eyed teenager. So why the emotions? Twelve years later, I am a different person. I brought something different to this story: my experience of motherhood.

The scene that grabbed my thoughts wasn't the one that latched on to them years earlier--that of Rose releasing Jack to the cold ocean depths at the end of the movie. I was prepared for that. I knew the inevitable. Rather, the scene that took me by surprise was of an underprivileged mother and her two children. They'd been locked beneath the ship to die. Water pooled around them. The mother leaned over her little ones cuddled on a bottom bunk, stroked their foreheads, and told them a story. Calmly. As if this night were like all the others.

The scene was but five seconds, but it tugged at my heartstrings in a deeply personal way and sent my imagination flying. How would I react in such a circumstance? Could I be so brave? What stories would I tell my children? What sweet words of Jesus would I whisper in their little ears?

And why did the scene barely impact me all those times I'd seen it years earlier? Had my heart been cold? Did I not value children?I don't think any of these were the case. In fact, it was what I now brought with me to the story. My children are the same age as those in the movie. I could relate to this poor mother's predicament in a way I couldn't as a sophomore in high school.

This got me to thinking--what makes a good story? One that evokes emotion from a reader will most certainly be more successful than one that doesn't. A skilled author creates characters and situations that draw on our own emotional experiences. Love, protection, fear, hopelessness. We all know these feelings. It's a writer's job to tap into them. I need to pay more attention to this in my own writing.

Have you ever had a similar experience--either in reading a book or watching a movie? What do you think makes a story worth reading?


  1. Heidi,

    It's amazing how you can watch something so many times and then understand a new apsect of it due to life circumstances. Now that I'm a mother, I connect to scenes like that as well.

    And yes, I love stories that tug at my emotions. Stories that make me cry. What can I say, I guess I'm like Anne of Green Gables that way--she preferred to make people cry with her words.

    Thanks for this post, friend! And thanks for always encouraging me with your kind words. I'm so blessed to know you!


  2. Thank you so much, Melanie. I'm blessed to know YOU. ;)

  3. Good post, Heidi.

    It's funny because my husband (not a writer) brought this up a few days ago. The older we get, the more experiences we have that can go into forming our stories and emotional input.

    (I've never seen Titanic.)

  4. So getting older is a good thing, right Sandy?
    Truly, I think it is. :) Thank you!