It’s easy to think of ourselves as storytellers, writing a good story, article, or poem, and leave it at that. Job well done. Maybe not.
We need more.
We live in a crazy world right now. It’s not the first time the world has been crazy. It won’t be the last. Literature is filled with stories that still move us, that were born of their own crazy times.
The craziness will take care of itself. It always does. (There’s the optimist in me.) But what is needed in times such as this is something really simple: authentic writers who tell authentic stories.
We’re in a time when we need authors we can be proud of, authors who tell the truth, who have authenticity, the audacity, whose every word shouts integrity, who truly have something to say. We need writers who want to give more than plot by supplying characters who grow and change, win or lose.
Writing is an ethical profession, just as, for example, medicine and law. Believe it or not, dear writer, you offer comfort and answers no matter your genre. If you think about simply writing a story, think again. Ethically, it is our job to offer more, even in the simplest of beginnings, middles, and ends.
To help us understand the world today, no matter what type of story or other literature we write, we illustrate it with characters who highlight our times, even if we’re telling an historical story. The characters must be diversified, even to the point sometimes of abhorrence, to show all sides of the philosophical argument (and I do hope you have a philosophical argument).
As authors, we must play fair, showing every coin side to the reader. We must treat every character with respect, even characters who will offend. We must grow to love the characters we disagree with the most, understanding the true and pure motives for why they may be faulted. We need characters who are suffering joy, but also pain and loss for this is where the reader is right now. And we need our characters, like our readers, to grow for better or worse, but to grow nonetheless and, if their lives are not better, at least their heart or understanding is, and—if they are one of those characters who never learn anything—then we leave the reader changed regardless.
So as a challenge to writers of today, regardless of genre or media, tell truly personal stories that mean something to you. Share your strong beliefs, share your deep values. Let every story, article, poem, whatever you write, be a turning point, not just for your reader, but also for you. What we do for readers is our gift. But it is also our gift to ourselves.
Clay Stafford is a bestselling author, editor, and publisher.