The Happy Writer

Stories Do Make A Difference

There’s so much ugliness in the world right now. It feels like every news story is more horrifying than the last, and that’s been weighing heavy on me. Have you noticed the lack of posting? In truth, I wrote four blog posts and tossed them. It seemed trivial to be talking about word counts and editing frustrations.

Is there a point to this? Do stories even matter when there’s so much trouble in the world?

Yes. Emphatically YES. – I’m answering this even as I type the question…

Stories can be subversion. They can expand your mind, shatter boundaries, and show hypocrisy and ugliness by offering different perspectives of the truth. E grew up in a what was a communist country at the time. There was no room for the “big minds” as he calls them: the creative thinkers, scholars, writers, innovators. He told me that his teachers would ask the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. If a child answered wrong (writer, artist, businessman)  someone from the party would come pay the family a visit that night.

Stories can also take you away from the world for a time. Sometimes a mental escape is necessary, and sometimes it’s the only escape that’s possible.  Stories can make you forget your troubles. They can make you smile and laugh, and chip away a little of the sadness, boredom, or loneliness. Every once in a while, I’ll crack open my trusty copy of Pride and Prejudice and let it sweep me away. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read it, and it’s always handy for when I need it.

Stoies can teach about life, and love, and growing up. They can help us navigate through the world. My parents never gave me the talk about the ‘birds and the bees’. Instead my dad, I imagine embarrassed beyond belief, asked someone at a bookstore to recommend a book to teach about sex, and I was gifted the “Clan of the Cavebear” one Christmas. Oh my, eye opening.

Stories inspire. Fiction can expand the imagination, and spark innovation in other areas: artwork, technology, lifestyle. I once had this idea that I’d cook my way through fiction. I decided to take all the food mentioned in the stories, make it real, and blog about it. I had to cut back on reading fantasy after reading “The Name of the Wind”. Great book, but damned if I was going to eat more stew. You know there’s something wrong when you start choosing fiction based on food preference. The idea flopped, but I still think some kind of paper could be written about the dietary constructs of fantastic worlds… anyone game?

Stories can offer hope, show us that we are not powerless. That bravery is small and large, that change is possible. For example, the boy who was not the smartest, or the most talented, still managed to succeed despite all the odds stacked against him. I’m no one. I haven’t got millions, nor a name anyone knows, I have no books on the shelves (yet), but I do not believe I’m powerless.

If you write what you love, and believe in what you write, you will affect the world – because love has a way of doing that. At the very least, through writing, you’ll change yourself, and that’s something real too.

Do you ever question the point of your writing? Have stories made a difference in your life?

35 Comments

  1. To answer simply: Yes (every day) and yes (every day).

    Wonderful post, Theresa/Tessa/T.S. (Also, that’s part of the reason I don’t watch the news…)

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      The news is guaranteed to make me horrified, grumpy, angry, or depressed. Sometimes I don’t want to know. Thanks Kristan 🙂 And you can call me whatever you like hehe, any of those work.

  2. Fiction makes an impact on my life everyday… I think that’s why I believe writing (even my writing) can impact other people…

    And that’s what art is all about… Good post.

  3. Why oh why did you not do the blog series on cooking your way through fiction? It can be done. It must be done. For the children.

    Also, very much a resounding “YES” to this post… I’ve felt the same way at times: when there’s so much going on in the world, you just want to say something about it. But in the face of the pressures and powers and evils of the world, my own voice is so very small.

    But still, I have story, and that’s something to me. Something important and timeless, I believe, something that touches the soul in a way that little else can. And by clinging to that, and to the storytellers, I’ve learned more about the world in this past year than I could have dreamed sitting in my little office cubicle…

    1. I ran the food/book blog for a couple months then deleted it when it started to become too much work (researching recipes, photography, book reviews). You know, I may try re-posting a few of those recipes here (minus the book reviews), and I do have a few other book recipes I want to try… hmm

      Our voices may be small, but they’re still voices. They can be heard. And I like what you’ve written about stories. I think being a writer colors the world differently.

  4. Food-based literary criticism might work better on novellas than Fantasy doorstops.

    I don’t think any of us would be having this conversation, writing this post or comments on it, if fiction didn’t have the power to affect us. Of course it can convince you of things or serve for profound escapsim. There’s also power in composition. It’s my second favorite form of self-expression, only behind diving elbow drops onto a bed.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      “There’s also power in composition.” That’s a very a good point. Expressing yourself is also necessary, healthy even. Now that I no longer have a punching bag, I may have to try out the elbow drops hehe.

  5. Science fiction (or speculative) has long been considered significant and an important medium to relate ideas about ourselves. Subversion indeed! How many books out there written decades ago could be called prophetic. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh man, that’s so 1984!”

    Writing fiction can really say so much about our world today. And it’s a safe place to show, “What if?”

    With all the ugliness and trouble in this world, I often wonder about sports. When I listen to sports talk radio, it all just seems so stupid to me compared to everything else. And I love sports!

    1. The “what if’s” are what make it all so interesting to me!

      About sports… Maybe it serves the function of relief, escapism, sort of similar to what the tabloids offer? Even if people talk about it seriously, we all know deep down it’s not the most serious or most important thing in the world, and that’s ok too sometimes.

      1. “Even if people talk about it seriously, we all know deep down it’s not the most serious or most important thing in the world, and that’s ok too sometimes.”

        Tell that to soccer hooligans.

        (For the record, I don’t particularly like any sport, because I don’t get anything out of it and am not entertained by it; but to each his own, you know. I’ve got my F&SF, and that makes me happy.)

      2. T.S. Bazelli Author

        I think hooligans take pleasure in causing trouble more than anything. My experience when living in Europe: when the local team lost, there would be a riot. When the local team won, there would be a riot. It didn’t matter who won o_O Just make sure you don’t wear the wrong colors and be outside of the house…

  6. Stories can inspire, as you say, or they can demoralize (or both). The written word is powerful, so considering the message in one’s story is fairly important. However, I often prefer to read fiction that has a healthy does of reality about it and includes both the ugly and the inspiring because life includes both, as you’ll see in the news. (The majority of it may be grim, but not all of it.)

    Personally, I like to explore ambiguous issues, where a situation doesn’t necessarily end on an entirely happy note. Terrorism is something that’s found its way into my fiction, and this has undoubtedly come from the September 11th attacks on the U.S. Also, I get fed up with “bad” guys who most obviously deserve to be punished and deserve no mercy whatsoever, so I want to explore an antagonist whose case is morally/ethically grey—someone that’s harder to condemn.

    Hopefully, when it’s finished, I will have written a story where readers can emphasize with the protagonist but also the antagonist(s) in a way that makes it difficult to say with conviction, “Okay, s/he is clearly the bad guy and should be locked away forever/executed,” though at the same time provides a sense of wonder and possibility that causes people to question just what, exactly, is possible. It takes an uncomfortable look at the humanity of an “enemy” who has good reason to behave the way they do and forces the protagonist (and hopefully the reader) to come to grips with this.

    In the end, the glimmer of hope may not shine as brightly as in other works of fantasy, but it’s still there–just hidden behind the veil of a grim and ugly (fictional) reality. And maybe this is something that will matter to other writers and readers, though maybe not. It’s hard to say.

    1. You never know how your writing will affect someone else. Readers might see something different than you, but that’s one of the wonderful mysteries of the craft. 🙂 I too like stories with ambiguity, because they challenge assumptions, and make me think. I can see why there’s a lot of gritty fantasy being written lately. The world does look a lot like that to me right now too.

  7. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” said José Rizal, quoting from Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Whenever I throw sheets of writing in the trash (or the equivalent on the Interweb), I’m reminded of how influential Rizal was for his words. Writing holds so much power to influence others and if I only ever bring a speck of insight to one other person (even if that person is just me =D), that’s valuable enough for me to consider my writing worthwhile.

  8. Eric W

    Being in the entertainment industry, making video games for a living, I ask myself the same question (phrased differently) – is what I’m doing actually a worthwhile endeavour? Couldn’t I be doing something more with my life? All I’m doing is providing entertainment for people — pure escapism!

    But that’s one of the joys of life (whether it’s playing a video game or reading a book) and if I can provide that to a consumer, put a smile on someone’s face, then hey. There are far worse things we could be doing for a living. I’m making smiles. It’s not as if I’m manufacturing weapons, or slaughtering dolphins in Taiji, Japan, or working in the oil and gas industry (Alberta tar sands -> climate change)

    There’s also the argument that what we’re doing (providing our respective forms of entertainment) is more than pure escapism — it’s allowing someone to grow, to reevaluate their place in the world, to connect with something, to be educated. It’s doing more redeeming for them than they’d get watching paint dry, if that was somehow entertaining.

    As far as hiding from the news, I have very little respect for that idea. None of us are isolated from the world we live in — we’re all in this together — what happens out there affects us all, and our children and grandchildren — so burying one’s head in the sand so as to avoid hearing negative/depressing news seems childish and irresponsible, when done consistently. A break now and then is understandable, I suppose, but to go through one’s life avoiding learning about what’s happening in our world seems not only a loss to one’s own life experience, but selfish in the grander scheme of things.

    Not only that, it will hinder your writing. What better place to look for inspiration than the real world? First-hand experience is wonderful (something I don’t get enough of) but we can only afford to experience new things when time and money permit; the rest of the time we must rely on conversation, books and other media for inspiration. Borrowing ideas from other works of fiction happens whether we want it to or not, but by itself this can only lead to reshuffled, recycled ideas. Reality — reality is where the best ideas wait to be mined. See the defiance in the proud Libyan woman’s face as she shouts into the rolling cameras of the foreign journalists, telling them of her kidnapping at a Gadhafi checkpoint and subsequent abuse by at the hands of his loyalists. Witness the instinctive act of human fellowship as journalists interpose themselves between the distraught woman and the plainclothes military men shouting at her to be silent. Cameras are smashed; reporters pushed to the floor and kicked repeatedly by men dressed as bellhops, waiters and other hotel staff. The foreign journalists limp to safety, angry, unable to withstand the brunt of the attack — the numbers are against them. A voice shouts that she is a “traitor.” A small, cherub-faced hotel clerk violently pulls a coat over the Libyan woman’s face as two others grab her from behind then drag her away. Meanwhile, local authorities in full damage control put out a series of statements in an attempt to smear her reputation, proclaiming she was a prostitute, or drunk, or mentally ill, and that she has since been released and is with family. (Her family denies having seen her.) THIS is a scene that could go in a great novel without much embellishment or extra dramatization at all. I could name a dozen other extraordinarily inspiring events taking place the world over right now. (The Japanese workers toiling away inside the nuclear plants, undergoing destructive radiation daily, to protect their homeland and people.) Much of it is terrible and depressing, but there is a silver lining, a hero, in every story.

    And, you know, even were it *all* bad, I’d still rather know about it — still rather know the truth. It’s reality, and I have a thing for reality, even when it’s hard to take.

    And for times when it’s really hard and we just need a break, (coming full circle) that’s why we have escapism! So keep writing. I’m going to go do just that.

    1. Oh no, definitely not advocating burying one’s head in the sand. It is our world. We should be interested in what’s happening, but like most things, finding a balance is necessary. Too much can be overwhelming.

      But hey, have you been writing these days? 🙂 You should start a blog!

  9. If you are going to cook your way through fiction, J. V. Jones had a series The Book of Words (starting with Baker’s Boy) that had sumptuous descriptions of the meals (the bad-guy if I remember correctly was quite a gourmand).

    I’d like to be light-hearted and say that I read Swedish news because at least there people become dogs when they die (well, really dög) and instead of being shot, you meet the bullets. Although, there is lots of pain, there is also gems of hope as well (check out RadioLab’s I need a hero) and I try to remember that.

    1. Not decided on picking up the cooking series again yet, but if I do, I’ll look for that book 🙂

      There are gems of hope, but they tend to get drowned out by the more sensational headlines. Bad news sells? Thank you for the link. It’s good to be reminded that there are real hero’s out there in the world.

  10. “If you write what you love, and believe in what you write, you will affect the world – because love has a way of doing that. At the very least, through writing, you’ll change yourself, and that’s something real too”

    Awesome. Did you read my Writer Unboxed guest post? I hope you did, it might help you.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I missed that one (just read it). “We are where we need to be.” Was a good one for me to hear right now. My mind’s already wandered away from this topic lol. It reminded me it’s not healthy to compare myself to others.

  11. I can feel your distress, Theresa. I know that this world may seem overwhelming. Each day the forces of darkness seems to mount higher and higher. The oppression of their crushing hand seems to take our breaths away.

    Yet there is a hope.

    The writer.

    The writer is the one that can bring light to the darkness.

    Look at how a writer was brave enough to bring us Wikileaks.

    Look at how a writer was brave enough to tell us the facts behind the cancer industry.

    Look at how a writer was brave enough to report the truth about the Gulf Oil Spill.

    Writing not only a key that unfasten lies yet frees the spirit to soar above the darkness.

    This is why your pen must continue to be busy in spite of the darkness.

    Your pen must become your torch.

  12. Joelle Wilson

    Love this post. Great reminder of why writing has such an impact on us. The stories color the way we view the world and our stories are colored by how the world influences us.

    Awesome –> “I haven’t got millions, nor a name anyone knows, I have no books on the shelves (yet), but I do not believe I’m powerless.”

    Thanks for posting.

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