Not too long ago, I read Beth’s post on censorship. She wrote of books that nudge our thinking, that move us. It made me think of the work that moves me… and it made me think of my mother.
Mom and I both enjoyed John Grisham’s work. For me, it was my “fluff” stuff. Entertaining. Easy to read.
After she read The Chamber, my mother said, “I hate that book!” I was flummoxed. I had devoured it. Loved it.
“I hate it, because I ended up liking that KKK guy.” Inwardly, I smiled. Gently, I tried to explain that that’s what great writers do. They try to make the unlikeable characters likeable—at least a little. Authors (at least good ones) make it their mission to create characters the reader can relate to, in small ways, with words that fill in the gray instead of just the black and white.
Reading Beth’s words made me think of the words and images that have moved me in powerful ways.
Alan Paton’s book Too Late the Phalarope moved me. Probably the first novel that made my mouth gape open, wowed by the power a writer has. His novel of one family’s unraveling because of apartheid saddened me beyond measure.
It’s been decades since I first read it, and I still go back and reread it. It’s that good.
Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is also a book I’ve read multiple times.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by William Golden, took me into a world that was completely foreign to me… made me glad that—for the grace of God, I didn’t go there. So did the documentary Born into Brothels. Zana Briski opened up the world of prostitution in Calcutta, where girls who are barely teens have no choice but to follow in their mothers’ footsteps.
All this mind-talk about moving a reader also made me think of a draft I shared at a writing retreat five or more years ago. It was a short story I’d categorized as fictional but in reality, it was all about me and it was all true garbage that was going on in my life.
All bile spewed out, all black and none of the white.
The editor who headed the retreat—Britton Gildersleeve—read it, and said, “I hate this character.” We had a conversation about it. Nothing about the character made Britton sympathetic. Nothing made her relate to the character.
Did I have the courage to say, “That character is me”? No way. But I learned.
Our job as writers is to create characters who’re painted in shades of gray. All good or all evil, all kind or all cruel… that's either boring or makes us unable to relate to them, and it’s also not what people are really like.
And if we can move the reader out of their comfort zone, if we can nudge their thinking along with presenting characters our audience can connect to?
Well, that’s just gravy.
What are some books or movies that moved you? Still-amazed-minds-after-all-these-years want to know...
Sioux Roslawski is a writer who's humbled by the power of words. When she's not devouring a novel, she's either teaching (middle-schoolers) or parenting (not too much these days) her two grown children, or spoiling her granddaughter, or rescuing dogs for Love a Golden Rescue. To read more of her stuff, go to her blog.