Can a Story Change a Mind?

In the aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, with thoughts of war and terrorism and extremist violence on my mind, I have been wondering:  Can a Story Change a Mind?
Not all stories are intended to influence the reader’s thoughts or instill a message.  Many stories are written purely to entertain.  But some stories have a message – a theme.  Sometimes the theme is the whole reason the writer sat down and put pen to paper – the story exists to explore the writer’s theme or message.  But some stories are first and foremost a story and theme is something that emerges but not necessarily the sole intent of the writings.
As a writer, all the stories I write have a theme or message within the pages.  Most often I am not aware of the “theme” until after the story has been written.  As I edit and rewrite and reflect, I see that a theme emerged.  The message is there, now clear before my eyes.
For me, this is one of the great joys of writing.  I love seeing how my subconscious created the story that I didn’t know was there, without me even knowing about it – a subconscious conspiracy!  I was just the transcriber for my subconscious who knew where it was going all along.
But the question I have, does the message matter?  Are readers truly affected by the theme?  Do books change minds?
I thought about what I’ve read and reflected on what, if any, stories had such a profound impact on me that it changed my mind.  I don’t mean change a person from the far right to the far left or convert them from Islam to Christian or such other big, whole life changes.  I mean even a subtle change – a little shift in perspective.  Have any stories changed your perspective?
My thought is that there have been a lot of stories that have changed my perspective, if only a little.  We take in a lot of media and stories in our lives and there are probably subtle effects of which we aren’t even aware.  But here are two that I know had a specific impact on me:
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle:  I read this book in late elementary school and I read it over and over.  I read a lot of stories as a kid, but this is THE one that I remember the most.  Why?  Because it gave me a glimpse of another world and the possibility that things are not always as they seem.  I was a kid who always felt intuitively that there was more to our world than meets the eye but to catch hold of a book that spoke of it – well, that was life-changing.

To Kil a Mockingbird, Harper Lee:  This was part of the curriculum in 8th grade for me.  I grew up in an all-white school in the Midwest.  I lived with an “Archie Bunker.”  I can pinpoint this book with opening my eyes to ideas about racism in a way no other book had (or has since). Perhaps it even influenced my decision to become a lawyer.  I know for certain that it was around this period that I became interested in social justice.  Harper Lee’s story changed my mind.  

There are many others that I’m sure will bubble up to the surface now that I’ve asked the question, but these are the two most prominent ones in my mind.
Have books changed your mind?  If so, which ones?

Stories are thoughts and thoughts have great power, even the power to change a mind.  Now, more than ever, we need stories.


Sometimes Editing can Kickstart the Muse

You’ve been working on a novel for about three years.  You finished it and put it away for a while as you began your next project.  Then you pulled it out, revised, tweaked, revised, got feedback then revised some more.  You’ve been doing this for about six months now and think you’ve gone as far as you can without professional help.

Then you pull a book on writing off the shelf and start reading a chapter about editing and revising your own work.  Two pages in  you realize you’re not done revising.  And as you read the instructor’s advice you see revisions that you need to make spring to your mind’s eye.  And suddenly you even see a new end to your novel, and that leads you to see how to polish the first chapter.  Now you’re juiced because you weren’t content with those two paragraphs – you thought you could do better – but couldn’t see how to improve them.  But now you do and you found it on your own and isn’t that amazing.

So you put on music that fuels your fire and you grab the large mug of coffee and get to the keyboard.  Your fingers are like lightening across the keys.  You can’t type fast enough to get it all down but you do your best.  You create and fill the pages with new and better material.  You write for hours not paying attention to the clock or the hunger in your stomach or the tiredness of your eyes.  You have to get it all down in that magic moment that is so elusive.

Now it’s time to put it away again, at least for a few days.  No need now to worry about puncutation and spelling and grammar.  It’s not necessary to fret over word choice or voice or pacing or any other element.  Just open the decanter and let it breathe for a while.  Let the pages swirl around in your subconscious while you go about the business of your life and your writing.  Plenty of time to come back to it later and see it once again with fresh eyes.

When the Muse is Distracted

I know that writing daily is the best way to get the work done.  Even when you don’t feel like it.  Even when the muse isn’t calling.  Even when you’ve got fourteen zillion other things to do.

I recently spent a day in a writing workshop and the lesson I took away from it was that I could produce a lot of words in as little as 15 minutes.  Even writing with a pen on paper I can bang out about 5-7 pages of stuff in 15 minutes.  Not that it’s all good!  But hey, you’ve got some material to work with.  You can’t sell a blank screen.

So why have I been sitting here for three hours and I haven’t written a single word on my current novel?

Today my excuse is that my husband is working at home.  Just having another person in my physical space – something I’m not used to during the day – is enough to upend my routine (not to mention he keeps coming in to my office to see me!).

But I’ll get in my writing time today, even if it’s later in the day after all are in bed.  I think I write my best stuff at night anyway, when the world is more quiet, the sunshine not beckoning me to go out and explore the outer world rather than the inner world of my imagination.

Author of Adventurous Stories for Middle Grade, Young Adult & Adults

%d bloggers like this: