Good fiction changes the world.
Submarine inventor Simon Lake was directly inspired by the work of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Martin Cooper, the director of research at Motorola, created the first mobile phone based on the Star Trek communicator. Even the TASER was invented by a fiction fan – Jack Cover grew up reading Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift books, one of which featured an “electric rifle”. In fact, the word TASER is an acronym for Tom A Swift’s Electric Rifle.
But it’s not just in the realm of science that fiction changes the world. The book Uncle Tom’s Cabin is widely credited as being instrumental in changing social perceptions of slavery, and many people believe it directly contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. To Kill a Mockingbird had a huge impact on race relations after its release. And, in more recent times, Anthony Gierzynski, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, found empirical evidence that the Harry Potter series influenced the political views of millennials significantly enough that J.K. Rowling’s work is indirectly responsible for Obama’s success at the polls.
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
– Martin Luther
Yes, good fiction changes the world.
And yet, how often do we think about when we sit down to bang out tens of thousands of words about sparkly vampires, amateur sleuths, or wise-cracking action heroes?
The art we create, the writing we do, is not a small thing. Storytelling is a sacred trust; a promise between writer and reader.
I’ve spoken to many people who say it’s one thing if you’re writing a book about race or gender or injustice or something “serious”. But when they’re penning an entertaining book about two people falling in love, they have no intention, or hope, of changing the world.
To those people I say: Why not?
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
– Mother Teresa
Let me tell you a story.