Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Why It Has To Be Fiction

Last month, I was invited to address a very politically aware audience about my novel, The Accidental Activist. I spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London throughout the 1990’s This is the the court case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

I was deeply inspired by the trial at the time and meticulously researchedMcLibelas it became known. My fictional timeline corresponds exactly with the real trial and many of the events in The Accidental Activist parallel what transpired in the real court case. In fact, many of the more infamous quotes from real-life witnesses just happened to find their way into the mouths of my characters.

I allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, to help empower people to create a better world. This is a consistent theme throughout my books, and here on Left Coast Voices – so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?

My answer was not very impressive. I mumbled that John Vidal, a journalist for The Guardian in the UK, had done a great job of writing the definitive book on the case and even had a copy on hand to show them.

But there is more. I believe fiction allows the writer to reach more people and on a deeper level than non-fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine. We become invested in their challenges.

But most significantly, we read fiction to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists. Often we align through gender, life experience, fears, or loves. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world. Men can understand how Matt felt driven to step outside his comfort zone and find a way to defend his woman.

If we can create a bond between character and reader, we open the opportunity for the reader to create an environment in which to undergo a similar transformation in their own life.

I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change we can believe in. This was what motivated so many to get involved and head to the polls four years ago and, I hope, what ultimately will bring them out to vote again in November.

When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on a conscious or subconscious level whether we can emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision. Perhaps this will empower us to believe that our actions can create a better world.

Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? Has a fictional character ever helped you change your life? If so, please share in the comments below.

Good Writing,



Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).


Single Post Navigation

4 thoughts on “Why It Has To Be Fiction

  1. It’s funny — I think I agree with you that fiction has tremendous power and strength, yet I’m not sure that I can really pinpoint an ACTION I’ve taken that came directly from a novel.

    Wait! Just as I was typing the above sentence, I thought of something. Many years ago, when I read EXODUS at the age of fourteen, I wrote a letter to my mother saying that I wanted to become Jewish (I was a Unitarian).

    Guess what?

    I had an orthodox conversion to Judaism ten years later.

  2. Sher on said:

    I believe that books well written like music have great power in our emotions that transpire in small and large ways into our lives. A favorite author of mine said in paraphrase guard what you read and see from out of it you become. I even agree with the very last part but I think just a little different America can come back to greatness by going back to why it was not to what killed and brought down large and healthy nations so please vote in November. Ask yourself did this mans dreams and the wife that thought America horrible unless her husband became president – has your life became better and more productive or more dependent on social programs that the rich “we love to hate” are paying for through their taxes and employees. I believe that social justice is well served when men/women take pride in themselves and their accomplishments and pass down a better place to the next generation. Not a nation controlled and dictated by government. Thank you! You have great ideas to process for all.

  3. Pingback: Corina Vacco – Social Activist and YA Award Winning Novelist | Left Coast Voices

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: