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Resonating Stories

How is a story able to draw you in, capture your imagination, and keep you coming back for more? Why do we get addicted to marathoning episodes of shows like Lost, or Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones?

And why do some stories resonate with us, while others leave us feeling unsatisfied or angry or feeling nothing at all?

I began to wonder if there is a story frequency, at which a story resonates not only with our minds, but with our bodies as well. Similar to how a particular radio station comes in perfectly clear when you’re on it, but dial the tuner up or down just a bit and you get static, or a whole other station completely.

Stories are delicate machines that need to be fined tuned to get the perfect resonance. And if a story resonates with us, we tend to like it, remember it, and possibly learn from it.

And just because a story doesn’t resonate with you, doesn’t necessarily make it a bad story. That’s why there are millions of stories in the world — all meant for different groups of people in all different cultures.

A South American film might not resonate with me, but it will for millions of people in South America. A Russian folk tale might not have any meaning for me, but it will for people who grew up hearing it. I’m just not tuned to those stations, but millions of others are.

I think it’s an interesting point to consider, because often people say (myself included) “That story sucked” or “I hated that story.” And we are all entitled to our opinion. But just as often, a story which we revile is someone else’s all-time favorite. It resonates with them.

And I think that might be why we return to our favorite movies and books multiple times. If a story resonated with us in the past, we want to feel those euphoric feelings again in the present.

How else to explain why, even though I’ve seen them at least a dozen times, I’ll watch Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back if they’re on TV? After the first time watching or reading a story, you know the plot so any sense of mystery or “what happens next” is gone. So why do we keep coming back for more?

My guess is that the pleasure center of our brain is activated when we experience a story that resonates with us. Stories that resonate with us make us feel good. And as humans, we seek out things that make us feel good.

In writing this, I came across an article about a study of video-gamers which found that the pleasure centers of the brain were larger in teenagers who played video games.

It might help explain why we need to get through that next installment of our new favorite book or TV show.

What are the books or movies that resonate with you? Which ones do you return to over and over?

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