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