24 September 2009

The Power of What We Say

On Tuesday, we talked about the power of advice in our lives, how certain words spoken at specific times were so appropriate, helpful, and encouraging that we remembered them and possibly changed how we lived or wrote because of them. Since we're all writers, we're all aware of the power of words. What we say (and write) has profound impact on those around us and ultimately, the world.

Today, I'm turning the question around on you. What's the best advice you have for any writer (if it's different from the one you shared on Tuesday)?

This week I'm ever more aware of the power of Story on our culture and how it really can impact everything from normal life to legislation. An incredible example of this will be on ABC primetime tonight--season premiere of Grey's Anatomy.

I watch a lot of tv, not to veg out but simply because I learn so much about life and storycrafting from it. It's a story in an hour, something that can really feed my creative side. I was a huge ER fan, so when Grey's first came on I refused to watch. Unfortunately, ER got stupid, so I gave Meredith a shot. Though I was late to the soap opera-ish dramatic backstory, I've picked up a lot. Most of all, I've been amazed at how the show speaks so clearly of the issues facing our nation today.

The final episodes of last season dealt with two primary issues: marriage and the illness of a primary character. The writers of the show went at the issue of marriage in two different ways. One, they continued to depict a growing lesbian relationship between two primary characters. Two, they reduced the marriage ceremony of the two main characters to a post-it note, vows written in private and sealed with a kiss that no one witnessed. Just like that, they considered themselves married. (Hopefully I'm not spoiling this for anyone, since it aired in May and then again last week).

I was just amazed, being that a huge issue in our nation right now is marriage: what constitutes a marriage, how is it defined, and who is allowed to get married?

If you watch the show, did you see how subtly they worked this issue? Or did it slide past in all the romance? I understand the characters of Meredith and Derek, of why they would choose something private and non-traditional. It's just that the argument the writers made (the one most of Hollywood supports) was so deftly constructed that I wanted to applaud their skills. The writer in me was inspired.

That finale was one of the most powerful I've ever seen, also because of the amazing cliff hanger at the end. I actually guessed it, which was pretty cool. And throughout the summer, I've thought back to that show and wondered what would happen in September. Tonight, I'll be on the couch, happy with the Story elements once again.

We have that same power that Hollywood does, to make an argument for what we believe and weave it so beautifully in our plots that readers can't help but notice. We have the power to shape our culture, just as the writers of Grey's Anatomy do. How are we using it? Are we willing to step out and take such a risk, or are we choosing the safe storylines?

I never want to be safe. What about you?

Happy watching tonight!


  1. What a great post.

    Storytelling is such a tricky art. It's easy to be derivative and "safe" and much, much harder to be original, yet recognizable. While the story should have a unique twist, it also has to follow a familiar arc (kinda like chord progressions in music).

    I'm struggling with my story right now, but determined to TRY to get it right. It's really deep thinking and hard work, but I hope it will be worth the effort!

    Great post, Kristen!

  2. Interesting thoughts. I think I definitely agree that we have this power. I don't watch Grey's but I do love House and I love the dialogue, the characterization... it's very much studying. LOL And entertainment of course. :-) I wouldn't want to be safe or dangerous. I just want to be effective in reaching people. In many ways, because I write commercial fiction and want it to be entertaining and hooky more than anything, but also for it to stick with a reader and (as you said) shape them.

  3. I want to make a difference in people's lives - I want to use what I lived, what I know. I've lived safe. No more. I will write what is uncomfortable but what I think needs to be written about. To show how far I fell and the One who pulled me out. Thanks for your posts. I love reading them. They make me think. Have an awesome day, ok. Sarah

  4. This post is really apt for me, Kristen. It's really been reiterated to me of late that I can no longer stick with safe stuff in my writing. The depth and emotional level I want won't come with safety. If I want to engage my readers, I'll have to work with sticky stuff.

    I recently found a book at the library called Not Safe, But Good : Short Stories Sharpened by Faith. They're Christian stories that take risks. I was interested as a reader but mostly as a writer, and it really helped solidify my goal.

  5. The best advice I have for a writer?
    Pray before you sit down to write. Love your readers. Ask God what they need to hear, and how best to write it. Be committed to the call God has on your life to write, but be more committed to Him than His gift.
    Then--have fun!!!!

  6. I feel more and more drawn to the marginalized child and the need to extend dignity to them through my writing.

  7. Ok now that I've had a moment to read this a bit closer I have to say awesome post.

    I have thus far been too careful about what I write. Always worried about who I might offend. I'm trying to get away from that. I think I need to just write for me, and hopefully my readers will grow to appreciate that.

  8. Very persuasive! Great post. :O)

  9. Janna--that is so hard. And if we keep that area of our lives "safe", out of bounds in our writing, it's like God shines a spotlight on it. Or at least, that's what he does with me. He's like, "Go here. I'm here. Don't be afraid. Just go to that place." Obeying that command is so hard! I admire you for being willing to be "sticky"!

    Jeannette, that's awesome advice. It's so easy to get caught up in our end of it and forget about the reason we write and who we write for. Thank you for that reminder!

    Jessica and Marybeth, I completely agree about being effective. I don't want to be dangerous for shock value alone. I think I would love to have the guts to (and to be able to write) things that make such powerful and controversial statements without being accused of being "conservative" and "intolerant" simply because it's a Christian viewpoint.

    Gwen, I love the chord analogy! That picture is going to be in my mind as I write in the future!

    Sarah, you're welcome! Thanks for coming by here! You're a brave woman to have lived what you have and to be willing to share it!

    Caroline--what a beautiful calling!

  10. Writing safe to me means holding back the inner most feelings that you're frightened to expose, and I'm thinking they are likely the very ones that NEED to be exposed. So no, I don't write safe, doesn't make for easy writing, but hopefully it's effective.

  11. I don't write safe, but I edit safe. I can't tell you how many things I've taken out of my stories because I'm worried about taking that risk. I need to work on this area. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. I have never watched this show, but I totally relate to getting inspiration and one-liners from TV shows.

    I see you're a missionary...kudos! I hope to be there someday. I have a feeling it involve orphans.

    You're invited to join me:


    for a few laughs and some God time

  13. Hi Kristen!

    What a thought provoking post. My entire story premise is dangerous. It is loosely based on real life challenges that I have seen both first hand and in close proximity. It always appeals to me to reveal just how powerful the hand of God is to reconstruct our tragedies into His victories.

    I am looking forward to people feeling the freedom to allow God into their situations with my WIP!

    Thanks again for the insight.
    Blessings to you...

  14. What Meredith and Derek got married? :D Just teasing. I stopped watching that show awhile back...stopped watching most TV awhile back...

    I love to weave redemption themes in a subtle, yet powerful way in my works.

    ~ Wendy

  15. It is subtle themes that will win out over obvious ones every time. Great post and happy watching.

  16. I love that too, Wendy! I love seeing restoration. It's so beautiful!

    By the way, for anyone who saw the premiere tonight, what a beautiful, authentic picture of grief. I loved it.

  17. I love this post, Kristen. I really hope I can be responsible with my words and deliver a message in my novels that helps people be think about who they truly are.

  18. It seems to me that writing safe is the opposite of writing honestly, and if my writing isn't honest I'm sure readers will recognize that and lose respect for my message.

    As for advice, I think the best has to be "just keep writing". Keep writing when you think it's all crap, when you're sure no one would ever want to read it, when writer's block steals your words and leaves you with gibberish, when you're too busy/sick/distracted (or whatever) to write. We've all heard it before: you can always edit bad writing but you can't edit a blank page. So just keep writing, no matter what!