When I read a story, there’s a movie playing in my head.

I imagine moving pictures that depict the story like live-action scenes in a movie.


My brain can’t make up detailed scenes on the spot, so it hauls in familiar scenery from other memories. For me, every issue of The Saddle Club takes place in a barn where I worked growing up.

I imagine the Dursleys’ house to look like my childhood home in Birmingham. My version of the Weasleys live in my toddlerhood home in Thibodaux. My Dorian Gray sits for his portrait in the Versailles Room of Mirrors.

Part of my frustration with actual movies based on books is that they always put my characters in the wrong damn house.

Maybe that’s really why we don’t like movies as much as the books they come from; a movie doesn’t accurately capture all the details we added to the story. A movie can’t do that: the directors don’t know about the details we added to the story. And even if they did, they couldn’t satisfy all the details in the million different ways that a million different readers imagined them.

Isn’t it weird that there is no definitive version of any story ever written?

Instead, there’s a different version of every story for every single person that ever read it.

So a piece of writing isn’t actually a story all by itself. It becomes a story as the reader turns it into a fully-fledged network of people, places, and events, using information from their own past experiences.

You didn’t just read Harry Potter; you co-created your version of the story along with Miss Rowling, and that version of the story belongs to you and you alone.

And there are 500 million other Harry Potter stories in the world, each one owned by a different reader, and each one a little bit different from yours. Someone else — everyone else — had a different perspective than you did. And so, when they read those exact same words on the page that you read, they created a story and a world that substantively differed from yours.

When I read my Facebook feed, which prominently features political and social commentary, sometimes I think about the 500 million Harry Potter stories.

See, I have my views. And sometimes I find it difficult to understand, if I’m on one end of the spectrum of opinion on a topic, how someone could possibly be on the other end of that spectrum. Like, how could they possibly believe that? I wonder if maybe they don’t have all the information that I have. I wonder if they can’t comprehend some important idea.

And maybe they don’t, or can’t — but maybe, also, they have read the exact same words I have and, through the filter of their experience, the story looks completely different to them than it does to me. And I don’t hear much about their experience because I don’t surround myself with people who have had their experiences.

I had a fantastic conversation at the gym the other day with a friend who pointed out that we tend to see things as black and white; we fail to recognize the grey areas, and we fail to consider the fact that maybe some of what the other viewpoint has to say is something we can actually agree with. And maybe they can get on board with some of what we think. And then we can figure out a solution that looks better than either of the extremes.

We don’t feel comfortable interacting with people who disagree with us. So we don’t. We don’t even read things that disagree with what we think. So then we never have the opportunity to entertain a point of view other than the one we already have.

We approach conflicting viewpoints with tension and defensiveness. But what if we were to approach them instead with curiosity — the same way we approach a storybook? It wouldn’t be quite the same; the stories in storybooks are only partially filled out and waiting for our interpretation. Other people’s viewpoints have already been filled in with those people’s experiences. But, instead of interpreting people’s experiences, perhaps we could do what we think we’re doing with storybooks: follow along, try to understand, generate an interest in what happens at the end.

At the very least, we could better understand other people’s perspectives — which makes it easier to persuade them of what we think. But we also might better understand the issues in general so we can come up with better solutions. And over time we could generate deeper connections with a more diverse group of people, too.

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