Fiction authors and poets have always found ways of confronting cultural, religious and social issues especially those where potential reprisals from the overarching structures of power could be perilous or even deadly. Through the narrative power of fiction and verse, they have found ways of bringing controversial issues like politics, religion and equality to mind without directly focusing on them. Satire might be the most obvious but the genres of, fantasy, romance and of course literary fiction have frequently brought hot button topics to light. Atonement by Ian McEwan, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan, books like these inform us, move us, introduce us to alternative perspectives, and ultimately shape our thoughts. The most powerful ones can even change the direction our lives take.
Of course, there are other forms of literature that influence our thinking. Non-fiction, journalism, advertising and political propaganda. All appear to promote a valid perspective with an underpinning dictate but fiction authors reach us on an entirely different level. Novels by their very nature are fabrications, fiction authors rarely purport to promote a conscious mandate and because of this, we are more readily open to the theme of a story and an author’s words. We are not required to discern truth, merely envisage a story as it unfolds. There is an old saying that seeing is believing and in showing, not telling an author can create powerful and sometimes indelible images on which we might come to reflect.
Like it or not it is an inescapable fact that we are all part of a structure. Be it religious, social, or political, structures and laws shape the world around us and influence our world view. That includes authors of fiction. It doesn’t matter which genre they write in their thoughts are influenced, even subconsciously, by their own world view but for those who make a conscious decision to challenge the status quo or offer a new world view it really is as simple as taking the facts of a controversial subject and weaving them into a narrative that elevates it beyond our everyday experience. When we talk about fiction we often refer to connecting with a novel’s characters and Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions. This is not only a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships but in building empathy.
Confronting anything head-on invariably leads to conflict, particularly when opposing cultural, religious and socially established norms but write a story about it and the conflict dissipates in favour of reflection. It wouldn’t be disingenuous to suggest that authors who write in this way bear a heavy responsibility. But how many appreciate the full extent of the influence they exercise?
As always, we write our blogs with the intent of sparking a degree of reflection. If you are currently in the process of writing a novel with a thought-provoking theme, about to pen your opening chapter or would just like to share your favourite read your thoughts are always welcome.