Last week I was watching a webinar about authorship and creating the life you want. One of the questions in the chat roll was one of those hard/easy questions that can be fun to explore: “what can a fiction writer do to make the world better?”
One answer that came up is that the world needs entertainment. I think that that is a fair answer, there is certainly a market for entertainment; but, in terms of making the world a better place, I think there is another answer. Fiction writers can make the world a better place the same way that non fiction writers do: presenting, talking about and examining ideas.
In addition to my writer hat I have a degree in psychology (I may have mentioned that already). In the study of psychology one of the things we try to do is describe behavior (and if you’re more daring, the experience of behavior). Fiction is another venue in which we can examine and discuss behavior and the human experience. Actually, it’s a way of examining and talking about the human experience that has real advantages. Sure, it isn’t empirical evidence, but in fiction you can feel safer in exploring the more uncomfortable parts of behavior and experience.
Fiction is fiction, the stories don’t have to be about real live people. This means that you can study the what ifs of the human experience in situations and ways that would be unethical to put a real person in for an empirical study (sorry folks, you really can’t ethically give someone a birth defect on purpose, kidnap them and force them to change religion or subject them to a car crash just to see what happens to them, but you can write a story about it).
you can also talk about things like how science changes lives (that’s called science fiction), politics, history, religion, or just about any other subject that you feel like talking about. Sure, you’re only telling a story (or reading or watching it), but you are also opening up an opportunity for people to think about and discuss ideas.
One of the entertainment draws of fiction is that it gives you an opportunity to be exposed to things outside of your normal experience. That’s a built in gateway to expose people to ideas outside of their normal experience. An old roommate of mine liked to point out that every telling of a story is someones first time hearing it; translated that is… every time we tell a story is a new chance for someone to first experience and explore some of the ideas involved.
Language, words, syntax, the whole business in fact is meant to carry meaning. Language is made up of symbols and ideas.
We can make the world better through the stories we tell. We can present and talk about ideas. We can teach, demonstrate, inform, and discuss. We can open a persuasive dialog and help people make choices and take action in their lives.
No, a story won’t change the world; people do that. Our stories present ideas. Our stories can help people to make the choices that will change the world. It has happened and it will happen again.
Well, that’s it for this week.
Till next time: write stories, draw pictures, make stuff, explore the world around you and know that you can have an impact for good. That has been given to you and nobody gets to take that away from you.