I’m not going to get into a debate about the politics of any of these situations. I’m certainly not smart enough or well-informed enough to give a decisive statement on who is right and who is wrong. But in all these cases, both sides believe they are right. No one launches into an all-out offensive to support something they consider wrong. They are products of culture, of upbringing, of their education or lack thereof, of their genes. And as writers, our job is to give them a voice.
That’s why we have great power to move the world. As writers, we get into someone else’s head, and we bring our readers along for the ride. If Tolkien can evoke our sympathy for the traitorous, twisted Gollum, or Rowling can evoke our empathy for a bitter, slimy coward like Severus Snape (to list two well-known examples), how much more effective will our words be when telling stories from two opposing, but equally valid, sides?
On one hand, you might find the tale of a man finally seeing his grandchild for the first time after a long estrangement from his daughter. Just as it seems reconciliation might finally be achieved, it is cut short when the suicide bomber enters the café. The man’s final act is to protect the two of them from the blast. On the other hand, you might find the tale of the young man who has kissed his darling daughter and his precious wife goodbye for the last time. Though it breaks his heart, he believes what he is doing will make the world a better place for them to live–and he would do anything to ensure they are never threatened, never hurt.
Non-profit organisations have learned that people are more likely to donate if they can see the specific person they’re donating to, and the tangible difference that they’ve made in the person’s life. In the same way, we are more likely to take the time to understand our opponent when we are given their story. We are more likely to see things from their point of view, and empathise with them.
Many people underestimate what a good story can do–even writers themselves, on occasion. It’s just a silly story, we say, or, All I can do is put down words on a page. But it’s so much more. A good character can touch a person’s heart, and a good book change a person’s view of others around them. Who will you speak for, in the months and years to come? What will you write, that will bring change to your little corner of the world, and perhaps beyond? Will you take up that responsibility?
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on a young adult novel with a kick-ass heroine. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and random musings on writing.