I’ve never stopped to count how many classic fairy tales we have here in the US, let alone the rest of the world. The most common ones that come to mind are Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel. Do you have a favorite?
I don’t. Because I don’t like any of them. I never have.
In the preface to my debut novel, Finding Annie, I wrote, “I have always been most drawn to stories that have realistically flawed, gloriously imperfect characters. People who make serious mistakes and survive the most unlikely circumstances that have been pulled straight out of real life.” This line was true when I wrote it and it still is today. But I’m not only drawn to reading them… I’m drawn to writing them as well.
When many in the world turn to fiction to as an escape, whether reading or writing it, why choose to write raw, gritty, realistic fiction? The answer to this question is the same reason I don’t like classic fairy tales. It’s because they’re too unrealistic and easy.
I’m not talking about magic here. There are sci-fi and fantasy stories that are way more realistic than these fairy tales because the characters—their flaws, the struggles they face, and the imperfectness of their arcs—are more realistic. Which also means easier to identify with. But is it really all that important to identify with the characters?
Yes—absolutely. And not just because completely unrelatable characters will turn off readers (the popularity of fairy tales is a good example of that not always being the case). The most important reason to have relatable characters when you’re writing is because you have an opportunity to do something important, to make a very real impact on the world around you.
Let me explain. Imagine that you are in your twenties, and you’ve survived a trauma that you’ve buried and decided to keep a secret because you feel ashamed of what you experienced. While you may have buried it and claim it has no impact on you, you know very well that it does, in many ways that you perhaps don’t wish to admit. And because you’re keeping this secret, there are things you believe you can’t do—because no person who’s had this thing happen to them could ever do that thing (for example, be loved romantically or have a friend who truly understands you). Maybe this trauma has given you nearly debilitating anxiety so you can’t imagine becoming the leader of a company like you once wanted to. Or maybe you now keep yourself so busy that you can’t imagine just doing something for fun because you wouldn’t have the time and don’t think anyone would even want your company because you’re always so serious and focused. This has become your reality.
Now imagine you pick up a book and begin to read. Imagine seeing yourself reflected on the page—the main character is a lot like you… A LOT. In fact, it’s uncanny how many ways you identify with this character. You suddenly feel seen in a way you never have, and you keep turning pages. You read about this character having similar internal dialogue and then you see how this character manages to face what he or she has been repressing and then go on to do the things he or she always dreamed of.
You now have a precedent and a roadmap for instigating positive change in your own life. How transformative! And all from a fiction novel.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve never experienced a trauma in your life, but you have this friend or coworker or family member who has. And maybe they’ve become unreliable or distant or rude, or they suddenly never want to go out and do the things you’ve known them to do. Or maybe they’re stuck in this rut and it’s so frustrating to you because you want them to just snap out of it—you don’t understand why they can’t just do that. And then you pick up this book where the main character sounds a lot like your friend or coworker or family member… A LOT. As you continue to read page after page, you find yourself with an understanding you didn’t previously have of what kind of internal struggle this person in your life is facing. You now have more compassion and can offer a different kind of support. Perhaps that different kind of support leads to a deepening of your relationship with this person, perhaps it even helps them make the changes in their life they’ve been struggling to make.
You’ve just positively impacted not only your own life, but the life of someone else. And again, all from a fiction novel.
Writing fiction—realistic fiction in particular—allows you as the writer to take something you see in the world that needs fixing or addressing and then provide a way of doing that. And then each person that picks up your book and reads your words also sees another way to make this world a better place, and this has a ripple effect. It’s an incredible power to be able to effect real, positive change in the world by wielding a pen and taking very real issues and writing about an ideal, but very possible, way to address those issues. Every word you write shapes what your reader thinks… why not use those words to make this world we live in a better place?
This concept—using the words we write to make the world a better place—is the driving force behind the books I write, and every book that Josha publishes. And the impacts became apparent at the outset, from Finding Annie encouraging one of its first readers to embark on her own healing journey in life, to moments of extraordinary courage sparking editor and author Olivia Castetter to write and share her own story, which is right now impacting countless others. I know it’s possible to help people feel seen and understood as well as provide them with a new perspective because I’ve personally received messages from readers indicating my books have done just that, beginning with Finding Annie, a fiction novel.
By writing raw, realistic fiction, I connect with readers in a deep, authentic way, while providing them with glimpses for how to heal themselves in ways they may never have considered because I’ve demonstrated one way of doing so—a way that maybe didn’t exist before, but does now, on the page. It’s writing fiction, yes, it’s also writing into existence a new reality for many.
Josha Publishing, LLC is a woman-founded, woman-owned, and woman-run company that is passionate about books, stories, and the power of words to change lives. Learn more about us here and remember to sign up for our newsletter to find out about new content, new books, and submissions updates.
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