Advocacy in Fiction
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
What is advocacy in fiction?
Have you ever had a novel introduce you to a way of thinking you’ve never experienced before? Or entrench you in the thoughts and feelings of a character completely different from yourself? Or make you understand the experiences of a marginalized group in a radically new way? I have been taken through all of these transformative journeys within the pages of a novel and more. It’s one of the greatest wonders of reading because books are perhaps the only form of storytelling that can put you in the minds of other people. Through books, you can walk a thousand miles in a thousand different pairs of shoes.
As a reader, these are incredible experiences to have. But as a writer, thinking about the impact you want to have on your readers, the journeys you want them to go through, can be paralyzing! Believe me, I stopped writing anything creatively for years partly because I became overwhelmed with anxieties: what if I am not being inclusive enough of diverse experiences and identities? How do I accurately portray a character with an identity (gender, race, ethnic heritage, nationality) different from my own? Am I representing vulnerable populations in an authentic and respectful way? Have I somehow inadvertently glorified toxic relationships? Am I normalizing hyper masculinity? Am I over sexualizing a female character? And this is all on top of insecurities I had about my writing itself (is it good enough, poetic enough, engaging enough?).
These issues of representation are a concern of mine because as a Chinese American reader, I found that I have been drawn to authors who have not shied away from portraying the experiences of immigrants and marginalized populations. The stories that featured characters who shared some of my experiences made me feel less alone in the world. The stories with characters of different identities allowed me to further understand their experiences within varying contexts. I strongly believe it is these stories that have made me a more empathetic person. So naturally, it is these types of stories I wish to write.
I have come to see this type of fiction as a form of advocacy, an agent for change. Art and media influence what we as a society think is normal or okay, even in the most infinitesimal of ways. Literature has this power also. A story featuring a survivor of childhood trauma or violence can ripple out and make real life survivors feel less alone; it can galvanize understanding from men and women who have never experienced trauma and prompt them to say, this is not okay. Stories of immigrants or people of color can make real life boys and girls, men and women who may be experiencing exclusion or discrimination feel less alone; it can prompt others outside of these identities to say, this should not be normal. Even outside of the story itself, a book can include a variety of resources for survivors of abuse or marginalized groups, or even raise money, donating a portion of its proceeds to non-profits working on a particular cause. I think these kinds of stories, these kinds of novels are important and necessary in the daunting task of fostering a more inclusive and equal society. This is not to say that writing books is the end-all-be-all answer to society’s problems. It’s not. But it is one of the ways I have decided to try and make an impact, however small.
In the time since I stopped writing creatively and then picked it up again, I got a graduate degree in anthropology. I spent years thinking critically about social inequalities, racism, standards of beauty, toxic masculinity, the status quo, criminality, legitimacy, art, and the influence of cultural norms on our day to day. I realize now that my background as an anthropological researcher has given me slightly more confidence in approaching this daunting task of writing as a form of advocacy and has inspired me to try again. So I’ve decided to launch a webpage dedicated to documenting my own journey in writing a novel while considering all of these issues and the solutions I find to work through them. Here you will find: diaries of my own struggles to pull off advocacy in fiction, compiled resources from other websites I found compelling or helpful, analyses of novels I think exemplify advocacy in fiction, and hopefully, interviews with their respective authors. I hope this corner of the Internet can also become a community for like-minded writers aspiring to write impactful stories.
If you are a writer who has some of the same concerns as I do, this webpage is for you. But don’t do what I did for the past few years. Don’t let your anxieties about getting it wrong or screwing up make you afraid to try. Because worse than failing is to know that you didn’t try at all. I have no doubts that I will screw up at some point, probably too many times to count and I plan to document all of those screw ups here on this site so that you might learn from my mistakes and we can all grow together.
Welcome to Advocacy in Fiction, an anthropologist’s thoughts on how made up stories can affect real life change.
AiF Discord Community
If you haven't heard of the Discord app, it is a chat application originally designed for gamers but equally effective for creating other communities. It is available in both desktop and mobile format for Mac and PC. I have decided to create a Discord server for writers who vibe with Advocacy in Fiction's mission statement and are concerned with many of the same questions I am currently struggling with and trying to work out through this intrepid journey. If you are looking for a community of writers dedicated to both the poetics and politics of their prose, the AiF Discord could be for you!
The Dilemma Diaries and Other Ramblings
Struggling with plot holes, fleshing out characters, world building, or writer's block? Wondering about issues of representation in fiction or how to incorporate monetary forms of advocacy into your authorpreneur business plan? I am too! As with many writers, writing facilitates my thinking. If I need to think something through, reading and writing about that topic helps me to work through it. Therefore, this is the space where I will write through my own dilemmas blog-style during my author/publication journey and share what ended up working for me (or desperately search for and feature the wisdom of others)! I also share my opinions on topics like why representation in literature matters, depicting difference versus exploring difference, and more.
Book Reviews and Analyses
I don't know about you, but I learn best from examples. And as a voracious reader, I am always looking forward to my next read! So many books I've read in the past have inspired me to start thinking about advocacy in fiction in the first place. Therefore, I wanted to honor this by reviewing books through a lens of critically praising and examining works of fiction in terms of the impact they might have on fostering a more inclusive perspective. Here you will find an analysis of the novels I am reading and my thoughts on how they might (or might not) be a form of advocacy in fiction.