I don’t think I’m alone, when I say that the world seems like a pretty dark place right now. Our physical planet appears to be imploding, divisiveness and hatred are pulling us apart, and madmen gather guns and shoot innocent people from the windows of a Las Vegas hotel, seemingly for no reason.
During times like these, I wonder how art can matter. How films and books and television and writing our life stories can make the world a better place. Can we, as writers, really be agents of change and love?
I believe so.
In fact, I think that we have a duty to tell stories that shed light on the human condition (both positive and negative.) That through our words, we can gain a greater understanding of what it means to struggle in the world.
I also believe that no matter what kind of story you are telling, it will leave an imprint on its viewer or reader. That whether it’s just for an hour and a half in a darkened movie theater, or for a few nights curled up in a chair with your book, you have a captive audience.
And what you say matters.
I’m not encouraging you to turn your book or movie into a political tract, but just to take a moment and consider the content you are putting out into the world. If you have a desire to enlighten through your storytelling, ask yourself the following questions…
What is the takeaway from my book or movie? Do we see people ultimately empowered, or do we leave them in darkness? And if we leave them in darkness, what does this ‘mean?’ We’re talking theme here. What message will the reader or viewer walk away with?
Are my characters stereotypical? Or do they break down stereotypes and in either a humorous, or dramatic way, reveal complicated authentic people worthy of our attention?
Do I use violence in a way that’s gratuitous? Or do I use it for a powerful thematic end?
How are women portrayed in my story? Does the story pass the Bechdel Test? Or are the female characters just there to serve the story needs of the more powerful men in the narrative? Here are the rules of the Bechdel test– 1. The story has to have at least two [named] women in it, 2. Who talk to each other, 3. About something besides a man.
How can I make my story, set in the past, relevant for today’s reader or audience? Why does this book or movie have to come out right now? Just as Arthur Miller’s play THE CRUCIBLE was about the Salem Witch Trials, it was also about the black list and McCarthyism. How can you create a moment of insight for your reader or viewer, where they see your historical story connect up with the present?
Are you writing about the real struggles of human beings who don’t often get a light shined on them? Or are you revealing something beautiful about humanity that will remind your reader to be a kinder, gentler person as they go about their day?
Am I inspiring my reader to take action? If you’re writing about a social justice topic, do you provide a link for the reader or viewer to connect with a group that is pursuing action along this topic? Could you become an activist yourself by donating some portion of the money you make from this writing project to a real life cause? Could you see your art as an extension of your being an agent of positive change in the world?
Here are some links to show you just how powerful words can be.
Take Action! Is your writing making the world a better place? If so, how? If not, think about how you are employing theme, portraying your characters, and if applicable, how you are connecting the past to the present. Even the darkest of works are best when they shed light on some aspect of the human condition.
Remember The Butterfly Effect.
Even the smallest battings of your wings, can collectively create huge transformation.
Keep writing. We need your words.
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