The Secret Life of Stories

February 14, 2023 by Sanja Pregl

I love stories.

I am a curious researcher, an enthusiastic seeker and a collector of stories. Stories have different meanings in my life. They enrich life and make it worth living; I learn from them, I make changes based on them, I write them and tell them. I also share them with others to make a difference in their lives. Sometimes just to bring them fun, sometimes to help others change their lives. I really believe in the power of storytelling.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that stories have their own secret life. Stories entertain us. People have received information from stories since the beginning of the use of language. Many of us decide to make changes in our daily lives based on stories of someone else’s experiences. The very same story that is transformative for us might not be interesting or contain any life changing elements for others. For a long time, I was a passive observer in the story of my own life. One day, I heard the story of my friend’s life and it became the turning point. From then on, I took the main role of my life into my own hands and became the star of my lifetime story.

As we learn from stories, we can learn above all how to take control of our story and how to turn to the ideas and experiences of others in order to make a difference in our own lives! Each person should be the main character in their life story. We can play a supporting role in other people’s stories but in ours – we should be the super heroes. Each story is not meant to speak to everyone. One and the same story can be the basis for learning and transformation for some of us, or it can leave some of us as cold as ice.

My experiment: How do you understand the story?

I wrote some very short stories (ten to thirty sentences) and then I decided to find out how people would understand them. So I ran a very short experiment, sending ten of my stories to twenty people – one story at a time to every single one of them. A question accompanying the story was simple: how do you understand the story? After receiving the answers, I sent them the next story with the same question. I just wanted confirmation that everybody understands the stories the same way. Imagine my surprise when I got as many different meanings of each story as there were readers. Some interpretations were similar, while others went in an unimaginable way. I was shocked by some answers . Therefore, I decided to look into the matter to find out why understanding the same story can be so different for us.

What are stories made of? Bricks and spaces between them.

Words are bricks of stories, just as data and information are bricks of knowledge. However, a house built of bricks only does not become a home, and the same goes with words in a story. All the spaces between them are the reason and possibility for the magic to happen. What appears as an empty space actually makes a difference to the audience. Empty spaces give people the opportunity to understand stories in their own way. We all understand and feel a story at least slightly differently because of what is between the words. The same is with knowledge: what happens between information and data, is what makes progress. A story affects us with its narrative, carefully chosen words and spaces between. What appears to be emptiness is very important. Because of spaces, some stories affect everybody, while some make a difference to just a few people. Spaces between words connect with everything that is abstract in our thoughts. If you looked inside your head when thinking, you would find not only words (as bricks) but also images, colors, abstract shapes, pictures and hints of ideas. They are all alive because of the space that appears between the bricks. As if this is not tricky enough, another aspect of how a story affects us is the way we are confronted with it: whether we read it or hear it.

The combination of all of these puzzle pieces makes everyone accept a story in their own way. And because of all these puzzle pieces, each story affects us on many levels of which we are not even aware.


On a conscious level: we are aware of words and the narrative. If the topic is connected to something we know, we think about it, and there is a possibility that the story makes a change in us.

On the level of our body: Stories are a universal tool that mankind has used from the beginning to make sense of the world, transfer knowledge and create meaning. They are transferred into our culture, history and values. They are a cultural universality that is woven into each individual's DNA. Because of this, our bodies react to stories in two ways. First, we can feel pain, or warmth or cold in some parts of our body, and second, our bodies produce neurotransmitters: dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. And these chemicals make short- or long-term differences.

On a subconscious level: Because of the fairytales we heard in the childhood (each nation has its own more or less different stories), and because of the myths that are somehow incorporated into our subconscious, stories influence us in different ways, depending on which part of the world we come from. And also our family stories affect the subconscious differently.

All this makes understanding a story so different for each one of us. I can state now that each story starts a secret life when someone reads it or hears it.

The successful secret life of a story has a transformative power

When the right person and the right story meet, magic happens.

We all know people who claim that they are just the way they are since they were born, and that they will stay like that forever. That nothing can change them, and it is up to us to decide if we want to live with them or not. Because they believe that they are the only and the best version of themselves, and we knew what we “bought” when we decided to accept them into our life. They do not want to change. Nevertheless, with the right story, even they can make a transformation, believe me. They just need to come across the right story at the right time, or completely by surprise.

On the other hand, we know people who constantly look for new behavior, knowledge and opportunities to change. They look into every story to find something deeper. In addition, there is the majority of us. From time to time, the right story finds us and transforms us. This means success for the story – and for us.

Add Your Comment

Comments powered by Disqus