Did you know that currently, 23% of the world’s women still don’t have the right to vote?
This past Sunday, I was lucky to attend the 95th Anniversary Celebration of The League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. My amazing friend Linda Goldstein Knowlton (producer of WHALERIDER, CODE BLACK, and director of SOMEWHERE BETWEEN) was being honored, and was part of a panel that included fellow award winners Abi Morgan and Sarah Gavran (writer and director of the film SUFFRAGETTE.)
As the Chair of the Event made her welcoming remarks, she dropped that little info bomb about the number of women who still can’t vote, and even though I know that many of the world’s women live in terrible poverty and powerlessness, I was shocked. And I started thinking about the relevance of a movie like SUFFRAGETTE, a story set in early 20th Century Britain, and how it was being used to make the world a better place right now.
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?
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?
After attending the event on Sunday, I thought long and hard about the project I’m working on now, and asked myself all the above questions. I immediately started to make notes about clarifying the theme of the story so that it more clearly created some positive insight about humanity and the world.
So thank you League of Women’s Voters of Los Angeles (And Linda and Abi and Sarah), for reminding me about the power of stories to create change!
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.
It’s not that hard. Just making someone laugh, or think, or angry can be revolutionary.
Sign up here for my free weekly writing tips and inspiration!