Carolyn Haines is no stranger to Femmes readers. The USA Today-bestselling author has shared her insights on writing with us before. This week she is launching a new (well, not completely new) venture in her publishing career. For a number of years, she wrote a series of romantic mysteries with a feline hero, Fear Familiar. These books were published under the Caroline Burnes byline. Recently Carolyn decided to bring Familiar back by republishing a few of his adventures and making them available again. In addition Carolyn, along with some writer friends of hers, are going to be chronicling the adventures of Trouble, Familiar's son -- who manages to get into mysteries just like his father.
Carolyn, besides being a critically acclaimed, prolific writer, has also been a teacher of writing. She has always stressed the importance of "story" in writing, and I couldn't agree more. But here's what Carolyn herself has to say on the subject.
THE POWER OF STORY
I believe that stories have the power to change the heart -- and the reality -- of a reader. It’s a staggering possibility, isn’t it? That someone skilled at storytelling could sway the heart and mind of another person. It’s a skill that politicians envy and writers hone. All great teachers and leaders use stories to motivate their audiences. Preachers too. We all know the power of a great orator, but at the root of great oratory and communication skills there is always story. A string of facts never has the power of one great anecdote or story that exemplifies those facts. Humans respond to story.
As writers and readers, I think we have to give this idea a lot of thought. Because what we write can impact people for good or for bad. And we also have to think about an audience’s willingness to be swayed in one direction or another.
I think back to the first story that marked me greatly. BAMBI. I was seriously upset by this story of a fawn whose mother is shot by hunters. To this day I have no use for hunting of any kind. I have no comprehension of hunting for sport or pleasure. Did BAMBI turn me into an anti-hunter, or was I affected so deeply by the story (as a three-year-old) because I already understood, deep down, that hunting—to me—is morally reprehensible?
OLD YELLER, THE YEARLING, CALL OF THE WILD—these were all books that marked me with a deeper consciousness of the intelligence of animals and the bond of responsibility between humans and animals. These stories broke my heart, but they also engaged an animal activism in me that continues to be a huge part of my life.
BLACK BEAUTY, KING OF THE WIND, NATIONAL VELVET, are responsible for the person I am today.
I can think of a number of other hallmark books that changed my view of life. Leon Uris’s TRINITY brought home the struggles in Ireland in a visceral way. And the movie RYAN’S DAUGHTER also had a huge impact on me on that same subject. David Lean’s cinematography was incredible.
Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books made me see vampires in the light of the racial discrimination that has infected our society. In Sookie’s world, vampires suffer the same prejudice that blacks and others have often faced.
In fact, most of my major beliefs have been shaped and bolstered by fiction. Not facts, but fiction. Because fiction allows me to feel so that the facts become personal experience.
I can know all the facts about something, but it isn’t until I understand it emotionally that it becomes woven into the fabric of who I am.
I read GONE WITH THE WIND, the epic historical novel, when I was in high school. I fell in love with the story on the first page. At that time, it had never really occurred to me that a person (Scarlett) could spend her life loving the wrong man—and bring such misery to everyone around her because she failed to understand who she truly was.
It’s a theme that comes back to me again and again. Know what you want. Know what you need. Know who you are. While many view Scarlett as a fascinating character set in a sweeping novel, my relationship with her is much deeper. I learned a great deal from her. I was able to take her experiences and mistakes and look at my life through them.
All of this goes back to the stories we tell ourselves. My younger brother and I shared the same experience, but we both have different stories about what occurred and how it applies to our individual lives. Reality through the filter of emotion and the need to believe certain things is a fascinating subject. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors will tell you, if they are being honest, that an eye witness to an event is not always a reliable source. People sometimes see what they want to see or expect to see.
The remarkable thing about a book is that thousands of people can share the same experience, shaped by the author’s skillful hand. When an author is able to connect a story so powerfully that it changes a person’s world view—just one single person--that is an extraordinary power.
The pen is mightier than the sword, if the pen is wielded by a skillful hand and someone with something important to say.
Have you been affected by a book (or movie)? Have you read or experienced a situation through a story that has profoundly impacted you? Let me know the books that changed your world view. I think this power is always worth discussing and celebrating.