While addressing a group about my novel, Oilspill dotcom, I apparently spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London in the 1990’s, the court case upon which I had based my book.
I had been deeply inspired by the trial and meticulously researched ‘McLibel’ as it became known. My fictional timeline corresponded exactly with that of the real trial, motions in Oilspill paralleled those of the real court case, and even the more infamous quotes from the real-life witnesses found their way into the mouths of my characters.
I also allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, for a better world. This is a consistent theme of my books, and features heavily on my website – www.alonshalev.com – so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?
My answer was not very impressive. I think 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.
But there is more. I feel it is possible to reach more people and on a deeper level when they, we, read fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine.
But most significantly, we seek to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists, often aligning by gender. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world, and men who can understand how Matt needed to 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, outside the realm of fiction.
I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I am skeptical that so many people were propelled to go and vote in an African-American democrat because of the policies he advocated. The debate over the health plan probably illustrates this. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change. And this is what motivated so many to head to the polls.
When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on some conscious or subconscious level whether we could emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision.
And when that happens, the potential for a better world seems almost obtainable.
Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? I’d like to hear what the inspirational book was.