Writers, you could rule the world

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Those who tell the stories rule the world, according to Plato.

But maybe to you, writing is just a hobby, or a daydream, or catharsis. You may sit in your cubicle or your classroom and look at your ordinary life and wonder where that world-ruling power is.

There’s this philosophical argument that started at least 2,300 years ago with Aristotle, continued with Oscar Wilde and still inspires conversations today. Does art imitate life? Or does life imitate art?

I think it’s more of a chicken vs. egg question. Each influences the other. Artists don’t just mimic the world as it is, but how they see it. And many artists – including fiction writers – take it a step further by imagining how it could be.

When we read those stories, we get a glimpse of the world the way they see it. We might learn to see beauty in cold, rainy weather. We might learn to identify with someone we would ordinarily despise. Art changes the way we see the world:

  • Stories affect our perceptions.
  • Our perceptions affect our actions.
  • Our actions affect reality.

Think about your favorite books, movies, television shows. How have they affected your sense of right and wrong? Have they made you question things you were taught? Have they made you dissatisfied with the status quo?

Have you unconsciously mimicked the actions of fictional characters?

You see it in marketing, too. Gary Vaynerchuck, famous in the world of social media branding, calls storytelling “the most underrated skill in the business.” Think about your favorite products. What made you choose that brand? Did a friend tell you how it worked for him? That’s a story. Were you intrigued by the way the company was founded? That’s a story. Did you see a commercial that made you laugh, cry, or think? That’s a story.

Sometimes the stories that move us are true. Often they are made-up. I’m not talking about fake testimonials; I mean hypothetical scenarios of people dealing with the same problems you are, and finding new solutions.

Or consider this. Sci-fi writers wrote about space travel, cell phones and the Internet before they existed, and in doing so helped bring them into existence. As L. Ron Hubbard explained in the introduction to Battlefield Earth, “The Golden Age of science fiction that began with Campbell and Astounding Science Fiction gathered enough public interest and readership to help push man into space. Today, you hear top scientists talking the way we used to talk in bull sessions so long ago.”

Fiction creates reality.

Need more evidence? In 2011, DARPA, the United States agency for defense research, called for a study of the power of narrative over the human psyche, seeking new ways to “forecast narrative influence.” If one of the most powerful countries in the world considers storytelling a potential weapon, how can we doubt its power?

Of course, all this doesn’t mean that you can write one flash fiction piece and start a revolution. It could take agonizing years perfecting your craft, your concept, and your delivery just to earn the attention of an audience, let alone their trust. And sometimes, you’ll simply fail to strike the right chord at the right time.

But it does happen, every day. The stories we see and hear and read affect what we buy, who we vote for, and how we interact with each other.

Remember that the next time you’re flipping channels, or listening to a friend tell a joke, or hunched over your home computer typing out a story you just can’t get out of your head.

Don’t forget their power. Don’t forget your power.

This is part one in a three-part guest post series by Stephanie Orges, a professional copywriter, avid blogger, aspiring novelist and barely passable ukulele player who offers writing prompts, advice and philosophy at BeKindRewrite.com

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