Impactful Fiction

Fiction always had and continues to have a great inpact on humanity. It’s shaped our history, our language, our philosophies and religions, our imagination and our perception. Every work of fiction has the potential to impact at least one person’s trajectory through life, if only by enriching his experience, and that’s one of the top priorities every self-respecting writer should have.

Sure, there’s self-expression, number of sales, literary merit, autograph signings and international prizes too, but let’s pretend every writer holds the reader’s experience closer to heart than all that other stuff.

How does the writer create a work of fiction that has an impact on readers? And what does “impact” actually mean?

Impact, from a reader’s perspective, means that the story relates to her personal life and offers (a) new meaning to it, (b) a different perspective, or (c) an additional layer or experience.

When the reader puts the book down, her own life will feel richer and her insight deeper, and she will feel rewarded for the time and money invested in reading your book. If the subjective reward exceeds the investment, she will gladly return to your characters or your work. However, she won’t come back to flatter you and make you rich and famous, she’ll come back to experience her own life in a different way.

That sounds mighty selfish, but it really isn’t. It’s basic common sense. Readers are interested in your work only as far as it pertains to their own lives and enriches their view of the world and themselves, and that’s not only perfectly acceptable, it’s actually quite a useful thing. Because, no matter what lives they had or what life you had, what really makes an impact is experiencing a shift in perspective. And you can always write that.

All of the world’s philosophies and religions deal with shifts (a.k.a. a deeper understanding, enlightenment, and so on), as do psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry, and every writer who has spent some good time studying people in order to write better characters has also dealt with shifts in perspective. There’s no secret you have to learn, all you have to do is step out of your own shoes and into someone else’s for a moment.

That is what readers are secretly craving, to see themselves as your protagonists, to leave your story with the feeling they’ve lived a different life for a few hours, and to view themselves with fresh eyes because of that. Beside all the action, romance and fantastic settings you have in your work, you should include at least one shift of perspective, in order to make it have more impact (if not make the entire story a massive shift—think of Matrix here, and how seeing that movie affected your sense of reality).

Here are a couple of suggestions you can use to see yourself through a new pair of lenses for a change, and curb your imagination.

You could… pick a beloved movie character and be her for a day.

Talk like her, move like her, dress like her (if you can) and try to assimilate her whole personality. You can adopt her mannerisms, her accent and her hairstyle. Try to feel what life was like for her, what she wanted and why, what would’ve happened if she couldn’t get it, what being herself meant. Go as deep as you want with this, or as deep as it’s possible, but whatever you do, don’t break character. Don’t stop being her for that entire day, dawn till dusk. Make notes of the things that strike you the most and revisit them the next day, as yourself. What’s different in your life and how does that difference matter? How could you capture that in your fiction?

Or maybe you could… pick up where your favorite novel left off.

What happens after the last scene in your favorite novel, if you’re in the protagonist’s shoes? What’s happened so far can’t be undone. All you have is the future. How will you continue the story if it’s you who lives it? Will you try to correct the other protagonist’s choices and lead everything in a new direction? Will you continue on the same path? How do you live with what she’s done? How do you treat the other characters? What would your being the protagonist mean to that storyworld? How will it affect you? Could you write a new story with this premise? Why would it be your story?

What would you do to freshen up your perspective? And how would you transcribe that into your fiction?

 

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This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2012

21 Replies to “Impactful Fiction”

  1. That is what a writer has to offer— a unique, fresh perspective.

    Look forward to your challenge run…
    –Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z
    #atozchallenge

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  2. It’s every writer’s dream to impact the reader. Even if it’s just one person!

    Nice to meet you, and I hope you’re enjoying the Challenge!

    KarenG
    A to Z Challenge Host

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  3. Vero, do you know you are putting out posts that other writer-bloggers are not? If they are, I haven’t found them yet.

    Do you know how refreshing it is to read something new (oh yeah, and awesome) on the subject of writing? Something that’s helpful and explained so clearly that it’ll sit in a writer’s brain for future recall?

    I threw up my hands halfway through reading today’s post because I had already planned on pointing to your “Halftimes in Fiction” in my upcoming “Three for Thursday” recommendations post. And now I read this! (I suppose this is a pretty good dilemma to have.)

    To hell with it. I’ll point to both. 😀

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  4. Impacting the reader. Putting yourself in the protagonists shoes. I’ve done that when I finish a book I really enjoy .. sometimes I wonder what the main character would do ‘afterwards’.

    Lee Child (author of the Jack Reacher books) – I think he’s got the ‘afterwards’ down to a T .. There’s always something to look forward to.

    Hopefully I haven’t made an ass of myself with my comment LOL

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    1. Wondering what the protagonist is doing after a book is finished is a good sign that the writer did something right. Unless it’s more like “what?! that’s an ending? what the hell is supposed to happen? tell me! tell me, dammit!”

      Thanks, Dazediva! And don’t worry, it’s pretty damn hard to make an ass of yourself since you’re a great blogger!

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  5. Although I don’t write stories that will contain nuggets of profound knowledge to answer the riddles of the universe, I still employ many of the themes and messages other kinds of fiction employ in order to discuss, question, or make a statement about the human condition.

    That’s why I love fiction!

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    1. Who cares about philosophical depth if the story leaves you questioning things you took for granted? Awakening the reader’s curiosity is much better than offering answers. So you’re right on track if you aim at opening discussions and studying the human condition in your fiction, Jay!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. This is an incredibly insightful post! I’ve always loved to write where my favorite books left off. When I was a child, I’d write short stories and the characters would always be my favorites from books and television. In my late teens, I wrote short story sequels to Gone With the Wind, Brave New World and some others. I think it’s high time I revisited this practice and think about it the way you suggest, in order to become more involved in a character. Thanks for the valuable post!

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  7. I love the design of your blog, so fresh and elegant, like your post! Thanks for the advise, I think that perspective is the one thing I had never thought about when writing. I will now!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.
    From Diary of a Writer in Progress

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  8. One of my favorite writing quotes is from Flannery O’Connor, who said, “A serious writer would gladly swap a hundred readers now for ten readers in ten years or one reader in a hundred years.”

    I think impact is at the heart of that quote! Aspiring to impact readers with any significant breadth of profundity here and now gets pulse racing. I can only imagine creating work impactful enough that people still get some soul out of it decades from now. But that’s what the true greats share in common. They explore and question truths so profound and universal years are not a large enough chasm to diminish the message at the heart of their work.

    I’d trade a barrel of soul for a thimbleful of impact like that.

    J.W.

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    1. Now that’s an impact indeed, if your work can still make people’s hearts pound decades from now! What a great target to have, exploring an aspect of human existence in one’s work, whether on a personal, social or philosophical level, that is not bound by the caprice of time, so that it can bring joy and open up perspectives long from now.

      You got me thinking, J.W. I’m writing about the meaning and importance of personal freedom (sort of) as an underlying theme in my WIP, and I wonder how I can make that exploration just enough apparent to still be valid in different societal contexts, but not too obvious. Man, I’d love it to create that sort of impact! *sigh*

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