As some of you have gently reminded me over the last few weeks, I have not posted anything here since 20 November 2013. That’s a 24 week absence, a portion of which has been spent reflecting on writing in the context of the advancement of the individual and the community.
As long time readers of this blog know, I write both non-fiction (in the form of the posts on this blog) and fiction (in the form of short story collections – here and here – and the first book in a children’s book series). I have embarked on each writing project with this quote in mind: “What you could do, and should do, is to use your stories to become a source of inspiration… for those who read them… exert your efforts to use [them] for the betterment of society.”
When it comes to writing non-fiction, sharing reflections on various topics has been rewarding. Putting my thoughts into writing requires that I refine my language, which in turn requires refining my understanding. Many of the posts have generated great email conversations with readers which has helped further broaden my understanding. Perhaps the next step is for the blog to become a platform for group conversations.
When it comes to writing fiction, it has been an interesting process to say the least. I recently took a step back to make sure I was working my way towards creating stories that contribute to the betterment of society. I have always had a hankering for creepy stories, so I tried to write them in a way that would make the reader think of concepts I thought important to personal and community development (here, here, and here for example). My initial attempts were clumsy to say the least. Precious discussions with friends helped me write stories that were still creepy while more clearly conveying thoughts on deeper concepts. This culminated in my publishing a short story collection of creepy stories (here). In the preface, I attempted to describe the reason why I wrote the book:
One of the roles of fiction is to explore concepts in ways that we cannot do in real life. The stories in this collection are metaphors for fears that I or close friends of mine had to face. Instead of bottling them up, I explored them through fiction, laying my anxieties to rest and making the fears easier to deal with. In the cases where the fears were those of my friends, I shared the story with them. I was amazed how, although the character’s situation was always completely different from that of my friend’s (especially in the stories featuring paranormal phenomena!), it had so much power to help.
Exploring darkness, as I did in all of these stories, also helps appreciate the light. Humans have both a lower, darker nature, and a higher, more illumined one. The latter has to learn to control the former. Through fiction, we are able to explore what might happen if we don’t, which helps steel our resolve. After all, controlling our lower nature is no easy feat! […]
My hope is to help trigger in you, dear reader, a reflection about your own fears, and your own lower nature, be it the actions you would consider doing, or the beliefs that you hold. It is my hope that this reflection will help you in your struggle to control your lower nature.
However, the idea of a conversation being central to broadening one’s understanding of concepts vital to personal and community development continued to weigh on me. I couldn’t get readers to enter into such conversations with me; so I thought to reach out instead to fellow authors to put together a second short story collection. The theme to this one, love in all its forms, was purposefully much more obviously connected to personal and community development. Together, we identified more elements that contribute to making fiction contribute to the betterment of society.
One of them is the active participation of the players involved in fiction.
There are, to my understanding, two players when it comes to storytelling: the one sharing the story, and the one receiving it. Both need to have the right attitude for the story to elevate the reader. The author’s attitude should be that of a humble contribution to the betterment of society. The reader’s attitude should be to use what is read as a source of material that will help refine their contribution to the betterment of society.
Beyond this foundational interaction is the synergic interaction between the author and the reader. Such an interaction could become an ongoing conversation that would help both significantly increase their understanding of how they can each contribute to the betterment of society. I imagine this conversation to be either between the author and the reader of the book, or between the author and anyone contributing to the betterment of society. I, as an author, have conversations with readers invaluable to refining my writing. I, as a contributor to the betterment of society, also have conversations with people who have not read my work that helped deepen my understanding of personal and community development. Both types of conversations help me refine my writing, one directly, one indirectly.
Writing, just like any form of media, has the power to elevate as much as to bring both the consumer and the creator down. While some extremes should be avoided, it seems that, within the context of personal and community development, there is a lot of place for many styles of fiction. What seems to be important across the board are the attitudes with which the stories are written, and those with which the stories are consumed. Avoiding extremes and consuming media with the right attitudes should help create a conversation around what is inspiring writing and develop and clearer understanding of what it can look like.
Image credit: Chad Mauger