We spend so much time delving into our writing, working at it, thinking about it, that it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing it. I’m not talking about our own personal reason for it (which would no doubt be a revealing exploration in itself), but about the effect what we write has on our readers once it leaves our laptop and ventures into the world on its own. Because at the end of the day, that’s why we’re writing: to affect the lives of those who read our work.
And it turns out we have way more power to do that than we know.
It’s just that focusing on that power may feel, you know, a tad egotistical — I shall change how my readers see the world! Plus since writing is hard, we tend to spend much more time sweating over why on earth our protagonist would want to juggle chainsaws for a living, than on how the answer will change our reader’s worldview.
But it will change it. That’s the evolutionary purpose of story: to allow us to vicariously experience difficult changes without risking life and limb (or, um, heart), so that should the situation arise when life and limb are in jeopardy, we’ll know what to do. And, just as important, why we need to do it.
But that’s something only noble stories teach us, right? Literary novels, high-minded films, that sort of thing. Certainly not action movies like Delta Force, or frivolous comedies like Ghostbusters, or romantic fluff like Dirty Dancing. Those things are just “mindless entertainment” and so easy to dismiss as nothing but time wasters, thus of little consequence. It’s not like that kind of “drivel” could ever help a nation, say, topple a dictator. Could it?
In the 1980s one country’s secret police didn’t think so. And they were wrong. [Read more…]