Let me give you a word of advice. Never go up against a writer when your integrity is on the line. We know the power of words, and we make it our business to harness that power. We’ve taken down nations; we’ve raised up heroes. It would be a small matter to ruin you.
This is a quote I dreamed up at work, while monotonously chopping long pieces of metal into smaller pieces of metal with a chop saw. It got me thinking, and a few minutes later I had the topic for my next article.
Every day the average person says between 7,000 and 15,000 words. Do you ever wonder what effect those words have? Ever wonder just how far the effects from simple everyday comments can spread?
We all know that words have power. It’s said again and again, in various contexts, for various purposes. And like any powerful tool, they can be used for good or evil.
Something that’s often said about various books—and I’m guilty of this myself—is that they’re just for fun. Just for entertainment. I’m talking about novels and short fiction here, mostly.
Is a novel ever purely entertainment? If it were, then you should come away from it with nothing. You were entertained, and afterward you pretty much forget about it and there is no effect on your thoughts, your speech, or your life from then on.
I suppose this is possible, but very rare. Even bad books have a way of sticking in our minds as examples of things we don’t like. The words we read gradually creep into our vocabulary. The theme presented in the book will affect our thinking on a subliminal level, whether or not the author intended for that theme to be there, and whether or not we consciously notice it.
A while back I was called in for jury duty and picked as part of the six-person jury in a domestic violence case. During the litigation, with all the lawyers’ arguments and evidence presented, I found my thoughts drifting back and forth, latching onto not the most logical answer, but the most appealing one based on the most recent carefully-worded argument.
A cunning lie can be just as believable as an unavoidable truth, and often even more so, when the lie is crafted to appeal to our selfish desires. If what we read doesn’t distinguish between the lies and the truth, it messes with our thought patterns. We might know the truth, but it still makes us think, ‘What if that is true instead?’
You can see where this trail of logic could lead.
All of you writers carry a weapon with the capacity to change the world, for better or for worse. Is this something to be wasted on frivolous entertainment? You could go around shooting a gun just for fun, heedless of what you hit, but eventually you’re going to shoot something important and kill it.
I’ve been struggling with this for a long time. Would I ever write a story with a message I don’t believe in, just because it was the most entertaining way to go? Absolutely not. At the same time, I find myself losing sight of the things I believe in and getting bogged down in making the story entertaining, being tempted to sacrifice a meaningful plotline for a shinier one that has more potential for dazzling the reader.
Choose every word carefully, consider how it could be taken and how you want it to be taken and do your best to make the two match up. I know a girl who attempted suicide a while ago during a very hard time in her life…by copying the actions of a character in a Christian book.
Another seventeen-year-old girl I heard about came from a broken home. Her father and 23-year-old stepmother got her unjustly locked away in a mental ward because she hated the woman…her father’s fifth wife. Her grandmother, during the time it took to gain custody of the girl, gave her a few books by Bryan Davis. When this girl at last went to live with her grandmother, she said that those books were the only reason she didn’t kill herself. She related to one character in the books, and the story gave her hope.
Bryan Davis knows very well the power of his words, and he’s made an enormous impact on the world.
You aren’t totally responsible for how your readers interpret your writing, but be aware that you’re messing with something that can never be fully understood, something that has taken down nations, raised up heroes, created a universe, changed hearts, saved lives, killed countless millions of people, and more. You’re messing with the power of words.
Which means you’re messing with people’s minds. Use that power wisely.