Writing with significance creates writers of significance. Just as important as why you write is why you want to write any particular story at any particular time.
The reason seems straightforward—a magazine is having open submissions and you want to to be published in it so you can add it to your bio. Maybe the pay is decent or you simply want the exposure. Those are good reasons, but there are some even better ones.
The act of creativity is transformative for both the creator and the recipient. When we write, we are pulling our thoughts to the page to share. Anyone who reads our work, for better or worse, is changed somehow. As Carl Jung famously said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” We are at our best when the transformations we inspire are positive.
POSITIVE CHANGE IS NOT LIMITED BY GENRE
Positive change does not mean warm and fuzzy. Change is messy and painful because it’s growth. Horror writers might feel they can’t have a positive impact because the genre revolves around terrible topics. This is confusing “warm and fuzzy” with positive.
A recent study shared from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) determined that fans of horror, particularly the morbidly curious, exhibited much higher resilience during the pandemic. In their own words: “We also found that morbid curiosity, a personality trait that has been previously associated with interest in horror (Scrivner, in press), was associated with greater positive resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.” (full study here) What’s positive about horror? It shows how to face fear and defeat it and this is vital information even if it’s not pleasant. Warm and fuzzy things get eaten. Positive change empowers.
Romance is another genre that gets overlooked as a vehicle for meaningful change. I’m guilty of discounting the power of romance. It was an elderly woman in the beginning of the 2020 pandemic lockdown that changed my perspective. She came into the library to return a huge stack of pulpy romance novels. I’m sure I looked smug, given the dismissive thoughts going through my mind. “I’m sure I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have these books to keep me occupied,” she told me. “I’d probably do myself in.” Well played, small elderly woman. She shocked and horrified a horror writer.
According to Digital History, “Hollywood played a valuable psychological role during the Great Depression. It provided reassurance to a demoralized nation. Even at the deepest depths of the Depression, 60 to 80 million Americans attended movies each week.” (Digital History) If keeping hope and morale alive weren’t enough, the romance genre is well known for addressing social issues such as race and class disparity from the beginning.
To me it’s good news that we don’t have to choose between writing what we feel called to and writing work that calls others. Genre fiction especially holds the power to empower simply because it’s universally accepted and enjoyed by a mass audience.
CHANGE THE STORY, CHANGE THE WORLD
I like how Terry Pratchett puts it in A Hat Full of Sky… “The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” I think every writer seeks to produce their best.
We invest in editing, proofreaders, cover designers, formatters… whatever it takes to show off our finest work. But what if that work had a chance to open minds, expand viewpoints and expose devolved idealism? Folding this power into your story brings it to the next level and can make it timeless.
Not every story has to change the world, but the ones that do last generations. Make your work matter and remain relevant. If you could say something to change the world, what would that be? Now add that message into your work. Think back to the stories that have stayed with you. More than likely they changed you somehow and that’s what they stick. We entertain, but we can also teach, open minds and inspire. Our readers will return the love by remembering us long after that final page turns. Writing to change the world can help your stories have a permanent place in it.
YOUR TAKEAWAY TASK
Think of all the things you wish you could change. Injustices, ignorance, poverty, racism, animal cruelty… these are all powerful touchpoints. Look at how they could be woven into any story to expand on that message. This doesn’t need to be a soap box rant. As Mary Poppins would say, a spoonful of sugar is needed.You are slipping your message into a bigger package. I’ve included a list of books that blend story and social message well at the end of this post.
As an exercise, try playing with social justice ideas and tropes you are familiar with. How could a little awareness of environmental destruction accent a vampire story? They’ve been around awhile and would notice the effects of climate change. How might a werewolf react if he came to demolish a village suffering from food insecurity or clean water? Personally, I’d love to hear Frankenstein comment on healthcare.
You don’t have to use your stories as sleeper agents for positive change but fiction that impacts a reader on this level gets remembered for generations. Here’s a list of books that have done just that and left the world a better place for being written:
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
- The House of God by Samuel Shem
- The Fire in the Flint by Walter White
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence