What is the point of fiction? Should it just be for pleasure or escape? There are novels that can, and do, change lives. They use the narrative power of drama to enlighten, to encourage to warn and to console.
Our ancestors told stories and fables to make sense of the world. The fable of the tortoise and the hare reminds us that the fastest is not always the greatest.
One of the novelist’s duties is to alert us to injustices in society. Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby exposed the horrors of the Yorkshire Schools – boarding schools where illegitimate or damaged children were beaten and starved by men posing as teachers. In The Water Babies, Kingsley described the plight of juvenile chimney sweepers. Bryce Courtney’s “The Power of One” condemns the evils of apartheid, and found the inner strength to change his own life and those of people around him.
We must show, not just tell. Self-help manuals inform and instruct us. but novelists can show us how to do it, encouraging us to identify with characters who make the emotional journeys that we might wish to make ourself. Victoria Hislop’s famous book “The Island” was a sympathetic depiction of the life of lepers in the early 20th century until the end of World War II when medication became available. It aroused awareness to charities seeking to eradicate leprosy in the Third World.
Fiction can also help us understand situations in our own lives. Novelists assure us we are not alone. Technology moves on but human nature stays the same.
An author sometimes has the power he or she might not have in real life. We can paint pictures of heart-felt despair, and can offer the reader solutions. We can show that it’s possible to move on and make better lives for ourselves. We can inspire a reader in the same situation.
A writer of fiction has the duty to show how we can move on. Some governments are afraid of writers because they tell their readers that a situation can be changed for the better. When you write fiction, you can use your story to plumb the hidden depths in human nature. You can make the reader care about your characters. They can take control and eventually win through.
Stories help us to see what is possible. People with life-changing experiences sometimes choose to write a novel instead of an autobiography, using the novel format to work through traumas they have suffered, or to make sense of their own childhoods. You are not on oath to tell the whole truth – you can rework your real life experience in order to make an interesting story, and this kind of liberty can set you free.
There will always be a need for storytellers to explain us to ourselves, and as a novelist, you have the power.
I’ll be glad to hear your comments, and to help you with your own writing problems. My latest novel is “Searching for Susan” – available on Amazon or contact me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org Happy writing!