The Power of a Good Story: Guest Post by Jessica O’Neal

Today’s guest post comes to you by way of Jessica O’Neal.  A self-professed ‘lover of the written word’, Jess is in the process of finishing her first novel.  You can follow her progress on her blog here (as well as read some great book reviews and thoughts on life in general), and you can cheer her on via Twitter, here.

Today Jess is talking about the power of a good story – the way it draws us in, turning the black and white of the page into something vivid, tangible, magical.

Jessica O’Neal, everybody!


The other night I was reading a book and as I became more immersed in the story I could feel my body physically responding to the emotions the story was drawing out of me. This is not an uncommon occurrence for me, but it got me thinking and I realized that there are not many people I know who would understand what I was going through. In my limited circle of family and friends there are very few who truly “get” what it is about books that creates such passion in me. Most of the people I know find that emotional connection through music, some find it in movies, but very few find it through books.

Whenever I try to explain exactly what it is a book does to me I am usually looked at as though I have grown a second head, which is admittedly better than the people who think they know exactly what I am talking about but as they expound upon it I realize they have no idea. For me, the power of a book (or movie or television show for that matter) is in the characters and the story they are telling, and it is one of the most powerful forces I have ever encountered. It goes so much deeper than simply feeling a generic sense of happiness or sadness that you forget about an hour later as you go about your daily life; it is something that is felt deep within you and lingers with you for days or weeks, and even after you have moved on to new things you can pause to think back on that story and instantly feel those same emotions awakened within you once more.

I often wonder what I would look like to someone observing me as I read. I am not someone who just gets into a comfortable position and reads with a blank expression. I laugh out loud, I smile, I scowl, I gasp, I cheer, I exclaim and talk back, I cry (sometimes to the point where I can no longer see the words on the page), I make hand gestures, and occasionally I find the action so intense I have to sit on my knees so that I can move in motion with my anxiety. My poor husband has gotten so used to this that he hardly notices my strange behavior anymore and no longer takes offense when he comes to tell me something and I hastily wave him away without even looking at him because I am in the midst of some crucial scene. While most people find all this external display from a book odd, they can at least somewhat understand what I am talking about since it is tangible, quantifiable. It is when I attempt to explain the things going on underneath, the things that are causing this strange display, that I lose people.

I have been sitting at my computer wracking my brain for adequate words to describe what happens inside of me and nothing I come up with seems to do it justice. Whenever I am reading a great story there is a veritable storm of emotion brewing on the inside of me that I don’t know how to explain. How do you explain the feeling created in your chest and gut when tragedy strikes? How do you explain the happiness that bubbles inside of you so strongly that it causes you to cry when you watch a character who has struggled for so long finally overcome? How do you explain the wrenching feeling of frustration that makes you want to pull your hair out or reach through the pages and shake the character for being so stupid? How do you explain that nothing more than words on a page can be so intense they cause your heart rate and breathing to grow more rapid? How do you explain the feeling of emptiness and pain that will not leave you because of the way things ended? Sure you can use the words and phrases authors use to help create those emotions in the first place, but unless you have experienced these things personally those words are not going to help explain it any more than they helped create it.

It can be very lonely sometimes having such intimate and important encounters – even if is through “just a book” – and not having very many people, if any, you can share it with. This is one of the many reasons I am so grateful for the online communities created through blogs, fansites, and social networking sites. These things have allowed me to find and connect with some of my kindred spirits. I may personally only know a few people who “get” it, but all I have to do is go online to find a host of friends who understand the power held within a good story.


26 thoughts on “The Power of a Good Story: Guest Post by Jessica O’Neal

  1. gingercalem says:

    Oooh, we read books the same way. I get very involved in my books. I especially love humor and will not hesitate to laugh out loud. It feels SO good!! I always get lost in the Harry Potter books. I’ve read them all numerous times. In fact, I’m listening to HP3 in the car right now and I’m sure people are wondering what the heck I’m laughing at driving alone in my car.

    Great post!

    • Jessica O'Neal says:

      The Harry Potter books are definitely some that I get the most involved in. I still, even after having read it at least 10 times, cry through pretty much the entire second half of Deathly Hallows. So amazing!

  2. Sharon K Owen says:

    Like you, I am a book person. I love music and movies but they don’t give me the same connection.

    Fortunately, I do have a few close friends and family who love books the way I do. My daughters are both avid book readers, as are the folks in my writers’ group.


    • Jessica O'Neal says:

      That’s nice that you have some people who understand. I have many friends who are avid readers, but the only person I have who truly *gets* it is my mom. But now I have a whole host of online friends who understand and I thankful for that every day. 🙂

  3. Shannon Esposito says:

    I totally get this! I walk around for days after finishing a good book, still thinking about the characters. I actually miss them. I think writers get this and want to give others that same experience with words. (Music doesn’t do this for me, unless it’s live)

    • Jessica O'Neal says:

      I completely agree with you. That was a big part of why I started this crazy idea of writing. Only certain types of music do this to me – mostly musical theater.

  4. Karen McFarland says:

    I think you and I are kindred spirits Jessica. I experience those exact same emotions when reading. And I always hate the end of the book. I want it to go on and I carry the story into my dreams and create the story anew.

    It’s what makes me write and challenges me to write a good story.

    Great Post Jessica! And thank you Myndi for sharing! 🙂

    You’re a great team you two!

  5. Julie says:

    I once put it like this: In that moment, I knew I had just experienced the sublime alchemy that occurs when words resonate with you so deeply that they reorder the cells in your body, and BAM — you are no longer the same person.

    It still doesn’t capture the feeling totally, but I wanted you to know that I DO know EXACTLY what you mean.

    Great post guys!!

    • Jessica O'Neal says:

      Oh, wow. I LOVE that description. It is an experience that is so difficult to put into words, but you did a pretty darn good job. You certainly do know what I mean.

  6. Jess Witkins says:

    I’m with ya Jessica! I love when books cause you to cry or swoon or spit! LOL. The Thorn Birds was the book I ever threw across the room, I was so mad at Luke O’Neil for treating Meggie the way he did!

    Sign of a good book if you ask me! Good luck with yours!

  7. Debra Kristi says:

    I love it Jessica! Thanks for hosting her Myndi. To use an example from one of your favorites Jessica – I soooo hated Dolores Umbridge that I actually had a hard time reading through The Order of the Phoenix. I just wanted to drop kick her so had it made every muscle in my body hurt. I would shake the book with fury at that darn woman.

    But I can also connect and feel extremely inspired by music and movies. So I get it from all sides. I don’t discriminate.

    • Jessica O'Neal says:

      Oh my goodness, you know me so well! She seriously made my blood pressure skyrocket. Oh, that woman! Such a perfect example.

      I connect with movies and, sometimes, music, too. But never quite to the same level as a book.

  8. Sheila Seabrook says:

    There is nothing like being immersed in a wonderful book and forgetting about the hours drifting away unnoticed. I’ve been like this since I was a kid, Jessica, and I totally GET you! Thank you for a wonderful post and thanks to Myndi for hosting you!

    • Jessica O'Neal says:

      Yep, it started in childhood for me as well. My mother is the same way and she totally passed it on to me at the earliest possible age. I will forever be grateful to her for that.

  9. Emma Burcart says:

    I feel strong connections to characters in books that I love. I know it is a good book when I can’t wait to read and it’s hard to turn off the light and go to sleep because I say, “Just one more chapter.” The book that did that for me the most recently was Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise. I did not want to put it down! And even now I find myself wondering what Felice might be doing now. They seem so real.

  10. Lynn Kelley says:

    Great post, Jessica! In fact, I think this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. I think you did a wonderful job in explaining how you feel when you’re so intensely connected with a book you’re reading. I’m the same way. Some of the characters remain with me forever. It’s amazing.

    Myndi, thanks for hosting Jessica!

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