There are numerous ways to go about writing a book that makes a difference. One way is to show a set of circumstances through the eyes of the characters, and one compelling way to accomplish that is through their jobs. Below are a few ideas; I’d love to hear yours!
Medical Professional – In this case, the story is told through the eyes of a medical professional that comes into contact with a person or persons battling a particular malady. It could be someone with an illness such as cancer or depression, or it could be an emergency room professional that treats drug addicts, automobile accident victims, or even a victim of a professional hit. The difference between simply having a medical professional in the story versus writing a book that makes a difference is the latter may educate readers on the difference in treatment between the wealthy or poor, the insured or uninsured, or the educated versus uneducated. It is not told through preaching, however, but unfolds naturally as they treat two patients with similar physical maladies. Charles Dickens was a master at spinning tales with stark contrasts between the fortunate few and unfortunate masses.
Environmental personnel – This character sees the world through the eyes of one that anticipates the imminent end of life on Earth and tries to do his or her part to prolong the planet’s habitability. Again, this isn’t someone that preaches about climate change, recycling, or reducing a carbon footprint, but rather someone that is caught up in circumstances that lead to disaster. Examples are a monster storm that permanently decimates a coastline; wildfires threatening thousands or millions; calving icebergs; earthquakes caused by fracking, mining or damming (National Geographic, October 2017). By showing the unfolding disaster through the eyes of the environment expert, the reader learns more about the causes and remedies than a character that is a victim of the disaster.
Public service – This character is a firefighter, police officer or first responder. Through their eyes the reader might learn of fire codes; I think of the disaster at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, in which 146 garment employees died. The fire led to legislation and improved safety standards, as it was determined that employees had been locked inside to prevent unauthorized breaks; there were no audible fire alarms or sprinkler systems; a flimsy fire escape broke; and firefighter ladders were too short.
In contrast, a police officer may encounter people and circumstances that the average individual would never personally witness, especially in more urban areas. It may depict the different treatment of minorities; corruption or those that hold the service to higher ideals; or it may delve into a specific case and particular characters as an investigation unfolds. The difference between these scenarios and the average story is a book that makes a difference will weave eye-opening lessons into the characters, backdrops and scenes that cause the reader to experience the problem or challenge firsthand, making them more aware of their own actions and consequences.
The law – This story is seen through the eyes of an attorney. Perhaps he or she is telling the story of a client that was wronged, exposing industry practices that negatively impact society. John Grisham is a master at this; examples are The Runaway Jury about the tobacco industry, The Appeal about judges and conflicts of interest, or The Rainmaker exposing medical insurance practices, among many others. Again, the difference between a story involving an attorney and a story that makes a difference lies in exposing a system that simply isn’t right, fair or honest. It could be a historical novel, providing facts led to changes in the law. Or it could be a set of circumstances that currently exist and need to be changed.
The main character does not have to be a good guy. The story could be told through unscrupulous eyes; through someone in a position of power that preys on those less fortunate, such as a prosecuting attorney that knows the person he is prosecuting is innocent, or the corporate CEO that knows his mining activity will cause a poor neighborhood to collapse.
The character does not even need to be the main character, but a set of minor characters that nonetheless bring attention to circumstances that exist or existed in the world.
A Book That Makes a Difference
The goal with such a book is to leave a lasting impression on the reader, raising their awareness of something they may have known nothing about and would not experience in their average set of activities. The reader should wonder whether the good guys or the bad will win or lose, and the story should be told so they personally feel an obligation for the characters to do the right thing. In telling the story, the writer is not preaching their own values through a sermon set in a book, but they are unveiling the story of people that may have actually existed, people that encountered unfairness, people whose lives were changed forever by something perceived to be beyond their control. When the reader puts the book down, they should feel compelled to look more deeply into the world the author has exposed, and perhaps by so doing, they can help to make the world a better place.
Have you written a book designed to make a difference? Who were the characters in your book? What were their vocations, and how did they relate to the story you wanted to tell?
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