Words Still Matter, Perhaps Today More Than Ever


What we say and what we write carries weight, makes a difference. A few words from a president can set off alarm bells. A phrase from the Fed Chairman can make the stock market soar or ignite a selling spree. And it’s not just the words of major players. During the past two years, we’ve learned the hard way that misinformation from all angles and sides shared on social media platforms did damage to many. 
Our words can wound or heal, can obscure or reveal. We learned long ago the saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is not always true. Some words can and should be brushed off, while others do damage.
Words matter.
Another great writer came at this issue from a slightly different angle. At a recent writers’ conference, I heard the best-selling mystery author, S. J. Rozan, explain to the audience that non-fiction is about reality—fiction is about truth. Or at least should be. Truths can sometimes be revealed in fiction far better than in any non-fiction forum. This incredible insight has stayed with me ever since.
I'd argue that one important purpose of fiction is to share the truths about life, love, and sometimes even death.
I’m not naïve. I realize readers don’t choose a Mystery or a Thriller or even a Romance because they are searching for insight or revelation. James Patterson is not a bestselling author because of his philosophical outlook on life. Fiction lovers are not browsing book shelves in bookstores—okay, checking out Amazon or BookBub listings—because they are searching for the meaning of life. They want to be entertained, to be scared to death, to be drawn in and forget their world, or maybe to fall in love inside the pages of their newest discovery.
Fiction authors have an important responsibility.
First, we need to assemble the essential ingredients to capture reader’s attention—a plausible story line (mostly), credible characters, a setting readers can enjoy, and most important, a compelling narrative.
And then, if we are fortunate enough to command our reader’s attention for hours of their precious time, they should come away with more than just solving the mystery, seeing the bad guy captured, or even making their heart race.
Fiction should convey a truth, sometimes even a truth that can’t be conveyed via non-fiction. A classic example of this is the TV series “M*A*S*H" (To be precise, the TV series based on a movie, which was based on a book.) For those too young to be familiar with this incredibly popular comedy series, either in its original run or in syndication, M*A*S*H was the story of a fictional Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War in the 1950’s. (Fun Fact—its final episode had the largest audience ever, 125 million viewers.)
Although the show was booked as a sitcom—and some of the shows were crazy funny— the episodes laid bare the brutality, horror, and senselessness of war. Even though it was set two decades earlier in Korea, M*A*S*H was a cleverly staged satire on the Vietnam War, and war in general. In fact, this fictional show may have done as much to tip public sentiment against the Vietnam War as all the demonstrations and op-eds combined.

Read the entire article in the May 2022 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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