Using Fiction to Make a Difference
By C. Hope Clark
Writing for peace . . . writing for any cause . . . usually comes in the form of nonfiction. The narrative essay, the journalism piece, the academic study. These days we’re bombarded with so many headlines, causes, and pressure to take a stand, that the noise is deafening.
Pundits shout. Protesters yell. Few can hold a calm, civil conversation and discuss the issues in a normal tone of voice. There are many people in the world who want to hear the discussion, or better understand the need for peace and understanding, but they’re so weary of the cacophony that they close their ears, and therefore, their minds.
When I was a child, I was taught that to teach your religion you have to live it by example, not shout it, and not force it upon others. In other words, people are more prone to want to learn about your religion when they see it in practice, and witness how remarkable a life it can mold. Writers seek to show don’t tell in their stories. In life, to tell someone how great that religion is doesn’t work nearly as well as showing. And of course shouting about it works least of all.
The same goes for peace. Whether talking immigration, guns, war, or political asylum, we cannot demand change. It’s counterintuitive. So how do we set the example for these sorts of issues and reach more people in a more convincing manner?
Storytelling has existed since the invention of language. Before man could write, he was passing down stories from generation to generation by talking around the campfire. Surely some were embellished, much like the game of whispering in someone’s ear, then they whisper the same story in someone else’s ear, then so on around the circle . . . only for the end result to be altered. However, the point of the story usually remained intact. The embellishment usually was made to create a more memorable point.
Poetry has long been a courier of communication, putting difficult topics into lyrical prose. To make it more palatable? Maybe. To dramatize a subject? Also, maybe. But if it opens up someone’s ears so that they listen to the message, then poetry is powerful.
The same goes for fiction.
Jean Kwok was a child when her family immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. Her multi-award-winning novels center around families uprooted and acclimating in new countries. Girl in Translation is her most popular and powerful, painting a story very similar to her own life.
The novels Border Child and The Iguana Tree were written by Michele Stone, a noted South Carolina author, with an emphasis on Mexican border crossings. She personalized the plight of Mexican immigrants through the effects on the children. Touching and poignant, the books have been recommended as reading in some school districts.
Before You Know Kindness, by Chris Bohjalian, depicts the issue of gun control in fiction, when a man’s young daughter accidentally shoots him, shattering the family dynamic.
Noted suspense/thriller author Heather Graham danced with human trafficking in A Dangerous Game, from her New York Confidential series.
Author Angie Thomas published The Hate U Give, about a cop killing an unarmed teenager, and how the community ripped itself apart taking different stances on the why and how it all went down. Who was right? Who knows the real answer, and what really is real?
Fiction allows the reader to be impartial, absorb the story, and envision how critical topics like these seriously impact people without the spin of television news, when doors are shut and nobody’s watching. Enabling the reader to view things three-dimensionally, witnessing how issues affect individuals rather than politics and journalism. And this type of storytelling, like with our ancestors long before us, sticks in the mind.
Want to write about issues? Before you consider a journalism feature, editorial, or an edgy blog post, step back. What if you told the world a story instead? A fiction story with all the realism of life. Capture people’s minds and hearts by depicting painful need through a tale.
Then once you have their attention, and you’re all talking nicely about the book, you can morph into the real facts . . . and possibly made headway toward real change.
BIO: Mystery author C. Hope Clark’s newest release is Newberry Sin, set in an idyllic small Southern town where blackmail and sex are hush-hush until they become murder. The fourth in the Carolina Slade Mysteries. Hope speaks to conferences, libraries, and book clubs across the country, is a regular podcaster for Writer’s Digest, and adores connecting with others. She is also founder of FundsforWriters.com, an award-winning site and newsletter service for writers. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina with her federal agent husband where they spin mysteries just for fun.
Many thanks to C. Hope Clark for sharing her insights with us. To learn more about her mystery series, visit her at www.chopeclark.com, and follow her wonderful blog tour! Check out the trailer here: The C. Hope Clark blog tour trailer
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