Friday, February 4, 2011

On the Power of Stories

Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories 'parables.' --Janet Litherland

Have you heard the story of the penguins? No, not the movie--but this one, supposedly credited to the Audubon Society's magazine:

"Bored Royal Air Force pilots stationed on the Falkland Islands devised what they thought was a marvelous new game. Noting that the local penguins are fascinated by airplanes, the pilots searched out a beach where the greatest congregation of birds gathered. Then the pilots flew slowly along the water's edge as nearly ten thousand penguins turned their heads in unison watching the planes go by. When the pilots turned around to fly back, the birds turned their heads in the opposite direction, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. To give the penguins a little variety, the pilots flew out to sea, turned around and flew over the top of the penguin colony. Once again, in unison, heads went up, up, up, until all ten thousand penguins toppled softly onto their backs."

An amazing story! One that captured my imagination, and certainly left an impression.

The source from which I read this account seemed credible. She was an inspirational writer, and used the example in her book to motivate her readers toward a joyful attitude. And--to her credit--she did say she had not documented the facts. So for years I believed this to be a true story.'s not.

You can check it out over at Snopes. It is simply an urban legend, and the facts show how a figment of someone's imagination got picked up and spread around. The truth has, if you will, put the penguins back on their feet.

Still, it's a good story.

I'm reading Nancy Lamb's The Art and Craft of Storytelling. Just started it, but am already excited about what I will learn--and attempt to apply--as I dig deeper into my new WIP. The Table of Contents speaks for itself: Part I--Building Plans; Part II--Foundation and Structure;  Part III--Structural Supports; Part IV--Interior Designs; Part V--Finishing Touches.

In the first chapter, Lamb shares this thought:  "It is a privilege to write stories...You open new worlds, you introduce new ways of thinking, and you lift the reader closer to the light. This is the power and purpose of story. And this is the tradition you honor."

And so, although the penguin story is not based on fact, I use it to remind myself of the power of a good story--how such a story can delight, enchant, touch, teach, inspire, challenge. For sure writing is a privilege, a tradition to honor...

...AND sometimes a mind-toppling challenge.

But we're up to it, aren't we?

At least we aren't bored!


  1. Sad, I thought that story was true, no Father Christmas after all?

  2. I've got Nancy Lamb's book on writing for children, it's excellent, will have to look at this one too. And I love penguins... especially the ones in 'Madagascar' :)

  3. I love how Nancy Lamb's Table of Contents reads like creating a home--a stable, warm, well-decorated place for readers to come in and see what you've built for them. Love the penguins!

  4. Yes, we are up to it! And it is better than being bored! :)
    Happy weekend,

  5. Sorry, Carol Anne, to have to break the news to you!

    Girl Friday--thanks for letting me know about Nancy Lamb's book on writing for children. I will certainly add it to my list of must-reads :-)

    Jess, like you, I love Nancy's analogy, too. I know I'm going to glean some great direction from this book.

    And Karen--we writers just can't be bored, can we? Having too much fun! Thanks for stopping in. Happy weekend to you, too...

  6. Hi Kenda..Nancy Lamb's book sounds wonderful. Will have to try and get it.

    Please add the Helping Hand Award to your sidebar and pass it on.