Some years ago, if I made what was considered an irrelevant or pointless remark at the dinner table, the response was “What does that have to do with the price of rice in China?” At the time, I was not acquainted with the butterfly effect, or chaos theory, so I could not make the only appropriate response: Everything.
As I slog through editing my romance novel, I’ve pondered the point of the work. This round of editing is checking grammar – weeding out flaws such as adverbs. There’s an undeniable (and undeniably nerdy) pleasure in finding a specific verb that eliminates an adverb. But it takes a lot of time. And on every re-read, I find new errors. This week I discovered a character’s clothing was inconsistent. She runs out of the house without a coat, and a few chapters later she comes in and hangs up her wet coat. It’s not as simple as fixing the first and last reference. I need to check for mentions of coat or no coat during the time she is out, and later references to the coat being wet or her being without a coat. Sorting this out is satisfying, but again time consuming. Is this editing – indeed, the whole novel writing project – a good use of my time?
There’s a lot of unhappiness in the world, and a lot of good, important causes I could support. I could be fighting to protect the environment, improve equality, or elect more responsible government. Instead, I’m flipping through a thesaurus trying to find a better way to say ‘walked carefully.’ That seems callous. It’s not as if I do nothing else but write. I vote, which should not be noteworthy, but many people do not. I make the occasional donation to various causes. And I have a second job, so the time spent writing is not a big part of my week. Still, is writing a romance novel going to make the world a better place? Will it affect the price of rice in China? Yes.
Fiction takes reality and re-arranges it to show us what is possible. We read stories where the crimes are solved and the couple fall in love because we like to see that it is possible. Stories not only declare it possible, but can show us the way, whether it’s through new ways to identify unknown bodies, or by providing examples of good and bad proposals. We have many stories – do we need more? Yes again.
First, we need to know what is possible now. And second, the population is growing. There are another 83 million people every year, and they all need something to read. Something that shows what is possible. In my writing, I show what is possible. I promote caring for the environment, equality, and responsible government. The reading of this novel might dramatically affect the price of rice. I remind myself of that, and dive in to sort out my character’s coat, and finish the rest of the editing.