Writers: What will you do with your power?

We’ve established that, as writers, we have great power. That fiction creates reality.

So what kind of reality are you going to create?

Are you going to write about lollipops and rainbows and perfect endings wherein nothing ever goes wrong again?

Of course not. Those kinds of endings feel fake to the jaded reader, and send a dangerous message to the naïve reader: that if only X happens (“X” often involving knights of the white horse-riding variety), everything will be fine.

To be truly powerful, fiction has to be realistic. Does that mean you should write about nothing but grief and disaster and leave your readers sobbing into a pint of mint chocolate chip at the end?

Of course not.

We don’t want to hide real world hardships from our readers, but we want to give our readers hope that they can overcome those hardships. C.S. Lewis says:

“Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave nights and heroic courage.”

But how do you strike that balance?

Let’s say you’re writing about a woman with an abusive husband.

  • Pessimism says:
    • She never gets up the courage to leave him for good, or:
    • She does leave him, but he tracks her down and kills her.
  • Optimism says:
    • She leaves him, survives and gains her independence. She goes through all kinds of emotional turmoil and economic hardship in the process, but she succeeds.

All three of these possibilities occur in reality. But which is more likely to move an abused person to take action? Which gives your readers hope?

I’m not saying preach a sermon, or force a moral into your text. Just aim for a plausible victory. Show your readers the possibilities. A simple hint that they are not alone, and that they can conquer their fears, chase their dreams, or simply do the right thing when they see a stranger drop a wallet.

Madeleine L’Engle said, “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” So prove her right.

But what if even a hint of motivational flavor won’t fit organically into your story? What if the whole point of the story is that it doesn’t have a point?

In that case, make sure it does this one thing:

Make sure it makes your reader happier.

Give them a reason to laugh.

That’s a kind of hope, too.

This is part two 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