“Good books are like dinosaur tracks in the bedrock—they leave impressions that last forever.”—Martin Land
A good way to evaluate the worthiness of a story is to determine the intensity of the emotional responses that are evoked by the author—the best stories being those that create and sustain the highest amount of empathy. Stories that arouse and awaken powerful sentiments in the mind of reader become cinematic when the reader can clearly visualize the setting, the time and place, and interactions between characters. Emotions are what arouse our passions, instincts, and feelings; intensify our focus; give us more at stake; and encourage us to become more engaged in the outcome. When expectations increase, focus intensifies, and anticipation of the expected outcome escalates. When we are sympathetic to the main characters, we become more engaged by bringing along our own self-identity and experiences—and it is more difficult to say goodbye when the story ends. Ultimately, our emotional responses are what is imprinted into the milky folds of our brain, like a steaming hot branding iron on the dusty hide of a Texas longhorn steer, an indelible mark that is memorable and long lasting. This is how we implicitly learn.
When a story is culturally important to survival, and vital to progress, it endures and remains changeless and irreversible. Great stories are universal and transforming to those who read them. They are unfading, persisting, immutable and enduring. Stories that live on appeal to vital human emotions through a genuine portrayal of people and their feelings. Since the most primitive campfires and throughout history, stories have been used to foster understanding, teach, influence, and bind people together. When basic emotions common to all humankind—love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, interest, excitement, fear, guilt, disgust, shame, contempt, and pride are introduced, an unpredictable chain reaction is set off, culminated by an enduring memory that forever alters self-identity and the worldview of the listener.