When Our Fiction Impacts Readers’ Lives, by Jenn J McLeod
I have a dilemma I need to share. Something is happening as a result of my debut novel that is both overwhelming and humbling, but also a little daunting. Let me explain …
As authors, we can hope our stories entertain readers to the point where they might escape their lives for a few hours. Maybe (hopefully) readers even fall in love with a character or two. What I never expected as a writer of fiction was to feel the weight of responsibility I’ve been experiencing since my book came out last March.
I’m referring to when someone sends a personal email that tells me that, after reading and enjoying House for all Seasons, they’re contemplating a life-changing decision, with statements along the lines of: “I’ve decided I’m not happy being me.” …and… “I’m going to make some serious life changes.” Then this one… “I needed [character name] to make me see the light. I know now it’s not a train! I can do this.”
To those who don’t know me, I write contemporary Australian stories about coming home to the country. They’re family relationship/friendship stories – of self-fulfilment, rediscovery, redemption, etc – that I hope readers will relate to on some emotional level. Some reviewers have labelled House for all Seasons a drama. This surprises me. I like to think that some of the more humorous aspects, as well as the occasional quirky character, inject a lighter element to balance out the seriousness of the subject matter.
This is the fiction writer’s dilemma: We write fiction, but it can impact readers’ lives.
House for all Seasons is the fictional account of four friends, a country house surrounded by the past, and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the century-old Dandelion House back in their hometown of Calingarry Crossing. Yes, it’s realistic. Fiction stories have to be; authenticity is right up there on every publisher’s checklist. What if that realism, or a character’s journey and growth throughout the story, was to resonate so deeply and on such a very personal level with a reader that it influenced them in their real lives?
How should we as authors feel about that? Elated? Worried? Or should it not concern us at all?
I know we write fiction, no different to Hollywood producing action blockbusters. It’s make-believe. Right? Then an orange-headed maniac made up like The Joker bursts into a cinema in the USA and randomly shoots theatre-goers. In one online article that examined this tragedy, violent video games and incendiary song lyrics also came into question for influencing the perpetrator that night.
Of course, it takes all kinds to make a world. Authors have all kinds of readers reading their stories. What we write and how we write it should matter. Shouldn’t it? We should feel some sense of responsibility. Shouldn’t we?
Okay, so maybe you’re no Jodi Picoult or Patricia Cornwell and your subject matter, like mine, is not controversial (I certainly have no psychopathic criminals planning mass murders in my novels). I love my small town stories sprinkled with humour. Never did I think about this issue until receiving a reader email recently that was quite detailed and a little unnerving.
Should I think about the issue of the impacts my story writing might have on readers’ lives as I move into book two? It’s a story in which I look at teenage issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. It really is a happy story! Or perhaps I am being my usual control-freakish self and wanting to organise the world to make it a better place and for everyone to live happily ever after. What do you think?
Jenn J McLeod’s author website: www.jennjmcleod.com
Writing Novels in Australia