I don’t usually get angry, and I’m certainly not one to advocate violence, but… sometimes, folks, you’ve got to get mad.
I was thinking earlier about the holiday we’ll be celebrating here in the US on Monday. We will be honoring the life and remembering the tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
So, what does the holiday have to do with anger? It has to do with one of the most memorable quotes from Dr. King:
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to be part of an appalling silence. It’s true, though. Too many times, people choose to remain silent rather than speak up about a troubling situation.
As a writer, I understand the role that emotions play in fiction. Every emotion is good; every emotion serves a purpose. Without emotion life is flat and meaningless. Anger can be a valuable source of motivation. It can spur characters to action. It can do the same for readers, too.
I’m not suggesting that every story we tell must be designed to right great wrongs or to call attention to social injustices and painful conditions, although many of the greatest books in history have done exactly that. Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, and Ralph Ellison are three authors who quickly come to mind.
It is important, however, that our stories have a strong moral base, a compass of sorts that defines goodness and points out the evils which lurk around us. Good stories require conflict, and the source of that conflict is ultmately the struggle between right and wrong.
Here is where our own personal beliefs, our own values, and our own moral positions come into play in our writing. Our beliefs represent our passions, and passion is what infuses our writing with life, with energy, with the power to draw readers in and keep them turning pages.
We each have important things to say — if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be writing. Although we don’t need to turn our stories into “sermons” or lengthy treatises on human weaknesses, we can — we should — speak out about things that matter to us. Our characters provide us with opportunities to share our thoughts with others. We use their voices. We use their experiences. We make examples of them. We reward them for “good behavior” or punish them when they break the rules we’ve established.
Yes, we make the rules in our fiction-writing. We decide what’s good, what’s bad, what’s right, and what’s worth fighting for. That’s how it should be, otherwise, we’re just telling stories. We can do so much more with our writing.
The next time you sit down to write, get mad! Think of the problems your characters are facing — and most likely you’ll discover problems that affect your readers, too.
Give thought to the injustice you see, the hypocrisy that exists, the pain, the prejudice, the awful greed and corruption that goes on every day. Give your characters something worth fighting for. Don’t let them be part of an appalling silence. Instead, let them speak up and inspire others.