When Reality Meets Sci-Fi: What Stephen King learned about the Power of Storytelling
Master storyteller Stephen King will never forget where he was the day he learned the Russians had put Sputnik into orbit.
It was October 1957 and the ten year-old King was a young science-fiction fan whose voracious appetite for fantasy and action was being regularly satisfied by a string of sensational Hollywood movies on the subject of alien invasion.
That day, as usual, he was attending a Saturday matinee in the only movie theatre in a small town in Connecticut, New England, watching aliens wreak havoc in the special-effects extravaganza Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. But just as the invaders were mounting their attack on Washington DC in the final reel, the screen went dark. The theatre was silent for a moment as the manager solemnly walked to the front of the auditorium and announced in a trembling voice the devastating news that America had lost the first leg in the Race for Space. The Russians had beaten them to it.
He understood the influential power of storytelling in the real worldLooking back, the author of Carrie and The Green Mile doesn't believe the Russians traumatised him into a lifetime of horror fanaticism. What was significant about that moment in his young life was that he suddenly recognised the parallels between fantasy fiction - in this case the existential threat of the unknown - and current events. He understood the influential power of storytelling in the real world.
As a writer, analogy and simile are useful mechanisms for explaining concepts. You might say, when explaining the influence of cinema in Cold War America, that the relentless fictional alien invasions in the Fifties were cultivating a fear of the unknown, a sense of paranoia that could easily be manipulated into a real world xenophobia which the government of the day could twist into justification for its foreign and domestic policies.
Whilst an analogy is quickly forgotten, a story lingers in the memoryHowever, whilst an analogy is quickly forgotten, a story lingers in the memory. A few moments ago, you probably didn't know where Stephen King was the day Sputnik went into orbit, but you do now and I'm willing to bet you'll still remember it in a week.
That is the power of storytelling. Put it to good use in your own writing. And remember that stories are strong stuff, so try not to scare the willies out of people.