Ted Talks: 

“The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Imaginary Friends and Real-World Consequences: Parasocial Relationships” Jennifer Barnes

I really enjoyed watching these two Ted Talks because although they are about different subjects, they made me think a lot about how and why we write. As a writer myself, I was especially intrigued and inspired by many of the points they made. 

In “The Danger of a Single Story,” the speaker says that we are very impressionable and vulnerable to stories, especially as children. In her case, the white British and American characters she read about as a child made her believe that all stories needed to be about these types of characters. I definitely agree with this psychological phenomenon, and I’ve experienced it myself, though not on nearly a sad and unfortunate level as this speaker. Jennifer Barnes asks in her talk how dangerous it is if there are a disproportionate number of stories about boys/men in our world, and this reminded me a lot of my childhood. I read a lot of “boy books” (fantasy, sword-fighting, science fiction, etc.) growing up, and it led me to believe, in a childlike way, that people who were strong, courageous, fighters, and “cool” had to be boys. Because of this, I would always pick the male avatar in video games, and when my friend–who was very similar to me in this way–and I would go on pretend adventures, we would pretend to be boy characters. I’m so glad I eventually grew out of that, and similarly to Adichie, found books that were able to broaden my mind by depicting strong and well-developed female characters.

The gist of this is that while we sometimes say we read to experience new ideas, places, fantasies, etc, we are drawn to stories with people and situations that we can identify with. There’s a huge movement within the YA (young adult) fiction world where women, people of color, international authors, etc. are having huge success and support because people have finally realized that diversity is what we need and want in stories: so we can see ourselves in our stories. This is why Black Panther was so enormous. It’s why The Hate U Give by Angie Miller has built a brick-and-mortar home at the top of the NYT Bestseller List and ALREADY has a movie coming out. And–my personal favorite–it’s why Nigerian author Tomi Adeyemi’s book based on Nigerian myth and culture, Children of Blood Bone has been so successful that Jimmy Fallon picked it as his summer reading book. (I highly recommend this book, and if you want a more in-depth discussion of why I love it and why you should read it, check out my review of it over here!)

I laughed out loud when Adichie said that she thought writers had to have a terrible childhood, so she started inventing horrible things her parents did to her. It was funny because as a writer myself, I’ve experienced that stereotype and that bit of angst when you realize that your childhood was actually quite wonderful. 

Jennifer Barnes’ talk was fascinating because I’ve always been interested in the psychological reasons behind storytelling. After all, writing and becoming invested in fiction doesn’t make much sense when you really think about it. In fact, there are a lot of people who think it is a waste of time. I was interested to learn about parasocial relationships, and I was shocked by my own reaction to her thought experiment: Do you feel more grief for the death of a fictional character or an acquaintance? I was also surprised to see the stark difference between males and females in her results. I wonder why we see such differences–is it caused by an inherent difference between men and women, or is it something conditioned?

Overall, these Ted Talks really made me think about why we tell stories and why those stories are important. I can’t wait to apply this knowledge within my own writing, to ensure that I’m not just writing a “single story.”

Image 1: Girl reading a book. Source – Pixabay.

Image 2: Girl reading a book with a blindfold. Source – Pxhere.