Several recent posts and comments here on Writer Unboxed have referenced my workshop “Unboxed Writing” at this year’s Un-Conference in Salem, including this post by Julia Munroe Martin. On Monday, Jael McHenry also sparked a lively discussion about politics and authors expressing themselves on social media versus through their fiction.
For those who were not able to attend my workshop, a key point was determining the change you want your fiction to provoke. Lisa Cron’s opening workshop asked the question, “What is the point of your novel?” My closing workshop question was, “What is the purpose of your writing?” I asked, “How do you want your novel to change the world?”
Fiction changes the world. It has before. It will again. Do not doubt it. There are too many examples that have worked in too many ways for this point to be in dispute. Even pulp novels have caused us to define our times in fresh terms. From outrage to compassion to surrender to war, novels have moved us, incited us, and transformed us.
Our experience of immigrants, refugees and other cultures has opened our eyes in The Jungle, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Kite Runner. We see race in America differently thanks to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Invisible Man, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, The Help. War became less glorious because of The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Catch 22. We see those who are ailing and dying as newly alive though Flowers for Algernon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Fault in Our Stars. Oppression, submission and the tyranny of utopia are brought home to us in Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games. Modern alienation and power of connection come through strongly in The Catcher in the Rye, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Road, A Man Called Ove. Heroism was redefined in Tarzan of the Apes, Riders of the Purple Sage, The Maltese Falcon. We have been uplifted and inspired to live better, more loving and spiritual lives through The Little Prince, Steppenwolf, The Alchemist, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
That’s just for starters. How do you want your novel to change the world? If you do not believe your fiction has that power, think again. However, I’m not here today to convince you that your novel will change the world. I already know that it can. I’m here to suggest how to put your purpose to work on the page. Let’s look at the actual methods of making the world better. [Read more…]