Thursday, April 29, 2010


Chip MacGregor says that he is looking for a book that will change him. That’s good, because I believe most good writers write with the intent that their books will change people. Books can change people in many ways, from giving people joy for a few hours to encouraging people to look at something in a way that they haven’t looked at it before. We tend to focus our attention on the entertainment value of a novel, but the thing that makes a novel memorable is in the way it changes us. Take Bridge to Terabithia for example. If it were just a story about two children creating an imaginary kingdom, it would be forgettable. As hard as it is to read, the thing that makes it memorable is that one of the children dies and the other has to deal with that.

Killing off a primary character isn’t the only way we can change people with a story and unless you are Nick Sparks, you probably don’t want to do it in every book. But what we do want to do is consider how people will see the world after they read the book that is different than how they saw it before they read it. In the case of Bridge to Terabithia, the novel deals with a topic that most people don’t have to deal with, a child handling the death of a close friend.

With many novels, we are changed by the novel, but we don’t really think about the change. We just know that we’ve been affected by what we’ve read. I suspect that is why there are so many mediocre stories out there. We do a little brainstorming and come up with an entertaining story. It creates a world that we enjoy visiting and characters we enjoy spending time with, but aside from that it is just a story like any other.

Creating life changing books isn’t as simple as picking a theme and building a story around it. Some themes work better than others. Uncle Tom’s Cabin worked by appealing to the emotions of people who had begun to realize that the slaves deserved to be treated better. Uncle Tom was presented as a good slave. People cheered for him, but he died because of cruel treatment. For a novel to change people, it has to not only take a stand on an issue, but it must appeal to the emotions in such a way that people are incited to change.