Fiction as a Force for Change

Susan DeFclasses, fictionLeave a Comment

wall mural of George Floyd with flowers surrounding his head

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how art can make a difference in the world—fiction in particular.
I went to a very politically engaged college, and graduated in 2000—a year when it seemed like everyone I knew who was really committed to making a difference was either at the WTO protests in Seattle or taking up organic farming. I was neither an activist nor a farmer; I was an artist, a writer. But what difference did my art really make? I had the sense that reading a novel and actually changing your beliefs about virtually anything were a thousand steps removed from each other.
The older I get, though, the more I see that every problem we have in our culture—from climate change to racism to sexism to poverty—is because of a “bad story” we have come to believe.
In the years since I graduated, I’ve learned a lot about what stories mean to people, how they connect and communicate and make meaning. The way my first novel was received frankly surprised me; this little coming-of-age tale centered on environmental activism clearly meant a lot to people who’d struggled themselves with issues of conscience and commitment.

And I realized that maybe it wasn’t really about changing peoples’ minds so much as it was about showing them their own truths, and moving them to act upon them.
In my career as an editor and book coach, I’ve also seen the sorts of traps that well-meaning authors can so easily fall into:

  • The harmful and inaccurate ways men can write female characters.
  • The harmful and inaccurate ways White writers can write POC characters.
  • The way stereotypical “bad guy” antagonists keep us from having to grapple with the real reasons such people exist.
  • The ways that violence and trauma are so often used as plot devices, with no real regard for the triggers or far-reaching consequences of such events, further desensitizing us to them.

So I decided to do something about it, and that something is the course I’m launching next month: Story Medicine: Better Stories for a Better World. This self-paced online course is for anyone with a novel under development, and it’s designed both to help writers avoid those sorts of pitfalls in tehir fiction and use their power as storytellers to combat issues like racism, sexism, and climate change.
To celebrate the launch of this new course, I’m hosting a free webinar series, Story Medicine: Soul to Soul, on Oct. 5–8. “Soul to soul” is the way fiction communicates, but it’s also the way conversations of real consequence occur, and that’s exactly what I see these as: a series of heartfelt, in-depth conversations with some of the women I admire the most—people whose work exemplifies what it means to use storytelling as a force for good in the world.
These special guests are Lidia Yuknavitch, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Joan, and founder of the Corporeal Writing Center in Portland; Jennie Nash, book coach, author, and founder of the Author Accelerator book coach certification program; Aya de León, award-winning author of the Justice Hustlers series, and A Spy in the Struggle; and Reema Zaman, actress, speaker, and author of I Am Yours.

In the course of these conversations, we’ll dig deep into into the ways that fiction can both interrogate the “bad stories” that got us here and share new ones–stories with the potential to catalyze positive change.
This series will be a feast, guaranteed—and, I hope, a source of real inspiration for anyone struggling, the way I did, with how to make a difference as a writer of fiction. Registration is limited, so claim your spot here.

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