Why I Write Fiction
Healing Our Hearts, Healing Our World
“Once there was a poor motherless child who had no shoes.” “The Red Shoes.”
“Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn’t mind spankings.” (a possible story)
“Tell me a story,” is a request as old as language. In the days before print, stories were told around the hearth. The Odyssey was sung. Medieval minstrels traveled from town to town singing the news from abroad. When my grandson is washed and settled into his pillow, he says, “Read me a story."
The main reason to tell a story is to entertain. A story must be engaging. With the fun comes meaning and a fresh perspective. If you want to support people in their efforts to live happy and productive lives, you can use mainstream fiction. Write about us, the folks, in relationships—at work, in families, in friendship and in the failure of friendship. You can write personal and family journeys. Some of my stories are meant to support those looking to help children get off to a good start. Some are for those in need of healing from the things that should not have happened to them. When I show a bully and call that bully by the name bully, anyone who has been bullied breathes a little easier. I want to write stories people will recognize as belonging to them.
Your current stories and essays are part of a conversation about life and truth, about us and our circles small to worldwide. One of the best contributions of the internet is the opportunity to comment on what we read. There is something richly cooperative about being invited to have our say.
There was a time when I wrote poems, essays, and memoir—no fiction. I wrote to bear witness. I believed others would benefit from reading true stories. But memoir doesn't always work. Some might not want the story told. For example, publishing the truth about a mean boss might cause you trouble. You can disguise the story, giving no identifying markers. Then, who would want to claim to be the bad guy? Writing is not a fit way to punish someone or win a battle. Writing is, I believe, a more ethical action than having the last word.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love works is a redemption story, lived and written. In fiction, healing can be accomplished by reinventing a past story. Some of the best re-inventors are romance writers. These writers are loved because they show a life that ought to be, one where people fall in love and live up to expectations. Nora Roberts’ characters are flawed, true, and they have problems to solve or there would be no story. But they are also heroic, ethical, gentle, and strong, willing to communicate, and patient enough to save one another from doubt and other harmful states of mind. Above the swamp of our indifferent lives they walk as the ideal men and women we know we deserve to be and to be beside. You can write this kind of story, in a romance or in mainstream literature. Examine what you truly want and need in your life and invent characters who come through for one another.
Well-written westerns do the same. Ralph Compton writes about daring frontier folks who confront bad guys, bad weather, and bad breaks—and win. Owen Wister, in The Virginian, considered the first western, shows the west as a place where a man has room to be a man and where a woman accustomed to eastern “society” is refreshed to find in the west genuine men and women who do not need a social facade. These are effective characters. For example, one young husband becomes unstrung by events just when action is needed. His wife “re-strings him.”
Wister’s writing is based in a personal ethic far above the norm even for his own time—I’m sure this was part of the reason he wrote The Virginian. He had something to say about how courageous and honorable a man could be.
The only difficulty I have had with these stories is that they don’t show us much about how to get into heroic shape. There a good reason for that. The authors didn’t know. They only knew what should be. With today's resources and the internet at your fingertips, you are in a better position to show how readers can gather heart. Any step-by-step path is either a recent discovery or ancient wisdom like that in the older, genuine versions of fairy tales that show the stages of growth. (To find these, get back behind the brothers Grimm, who wrote for slavery, not freedom.)
My fiction shows a way forward from the pain and chaos of today’s families to a confidence based on self-trust—and to the greater happiness that comes with knowing we are each worthy and able. Make the connection for your readers between childhood nurturing, ability, and confidence. Fiction can revitalize our families, neighborhoods, and world. We can imitate the characters in ethically written works of fiction with good results. If we are puzzled how to go about that, some modern stories can show us—and bring us full circle to the ancient wisdom, with new understanding.