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  • Writer's pictureFallon Clark

How to Inspire Your Readers to Do Good Through Your Novel or Memoir

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Ever read a novel that made you feel good? About yourself? Your place in the world? Your unique set of experiences?

What about a novel that made you want to do good?

When you read a novel that doesn’t just make you feel good but quietly urges to you do good because it shows you what can happen when you do, well, that’s the kind of novel that changes the world for the better.

If you desire to use your novel as a force of positive change in the world, this newsletter is for you. Through your novel, you can share your values, your big heart, and a message of hope to anchor your story in a fundamental goodwill to speak to your readers in kindness and persuade them to make positive changes for themselves and others.

Express Your Values

Each of us has a unique set of values based on the sets of experiences and circumstances in our lives shaped over time. Chances are, the values you hold dear today may be different—whether slightly or vastly—from the values you held yesterday. But communicating our values to our readers, especially in such a way that incites action, is not an easy feat.

If your main character says they value the environment, for example, that bit of dialogue alone is not likely to persuade your reader to plant a tree. However, if your main character skips the “I love the environment” speech and instead participates in a tree-planting exercise in their community while giving in to the beauty of spring birdsong, well, you may convince your reader that action is necessary and persuade them to take that next step.

In Tommy Wallach’s novel, We All Looked Up, scientists have predicted that an asteroid big enough to destroy much of life on Earth will strike, and people must decide, rather quickly, what their lives are about and what they want to do with the time they have left. The novel champions the idea that the things we think are important when we have a future become obsolete when the possibility of a future is erased. That is also the opportunity to find out what really matters.

One of the viewpoint characters, Anita, reads Socrates, the influence of whom gives her permission to follow her calling as a singer because “anything else would be to break the most fundamental rule of the universe.” (p.113) But Anita doesn’t just read Socrates and come to some great (but hypothetical) conclusion about life. Instead, she takes the Socratic teachings literally, considers the brevity of life, and makes it her mission to get to the stage. And by the end of the novel, she makes it, delivers a spectacular performance to a frantic, yet hungry, audience.

Given the author is a singer-songwriter and novelist, you may guess how closely Anita’s values resemble his own. But beyond the author-character connection, We All Looked Up communicates the importance of a purpose-driven life, and it does so subtly, while encouraging readers to look at their own lives under a microscope and figure out what they value.

When writing or revising your novel, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which of my values do I want to share with readers?

  • Which of my characters best embodies those values?

  • How can I show my readers those values in action?

  • What scenes will I need to deliver that message?

Get Big-Hearted

Have you ever met someone who gives you positive vibes when you’re in their space? You know, that happy-juice that emanates from an enormous heart?

To be clear, I am not talking about cardiomegaly here. I’m talking about the kind of heart too big for one person, the kind of heart that wraps its ventricular arms around the entire community to love, protect, and serve? Delia Owens’ novel, Where The Crawdads Sing, a character-driven crime drama, has two such big-hearted characters: Jumpin’, who owns a gas dock and bait shop in the marsh, and his wife, Mabel.

Although Jumpin’ and Mabel are looked down upon in the late 1960s South Carolina community of Barkley Cove because they’re black, Jumpin’ and Mabel never look down upon the impoverished, dirty, and borderline feral “marsh girl,” Kya. And readers see this in their interactions with Kya throughout the story.

When Kya brings in smoked fish that “looks like sump’n even dogs wouldn’t drag in,” Mabel offers (quietly to Jumpin’ after Kya has left the shop), “ain’t nobody gonna buy them fish; I can cook ‘em up in stew. Our church can come up wif some clothes, other things for her. We’ll tell ‘er there’s some family that’ll trade jumpers for carpies. What size is she?” (p. 82)

Not once in the novel did Jumpin’ or Mabel consider berating the young girl for her poor-quality smoked fish. Not once did they turn her away. Instead, they immediately offer help and forge a relationship with Kya through acts of service supported by their community.

It’s clear from the pages of Where the Crawdads Sing and through her protagonist, Kya, that Delia Owens champions the environment, self-reliance, and the merits of lifelong learning. But underneath those key themes is a beautiful depiction of big-heartedness in the small-minded south. Readers come to terms with their own biases and walk away with a greater understanding of what it means to live heart-first.

When writing or revising your novel, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which of my characters has the biggest heart?

  • How will readers learn of the character’s big-heartedness?

  • What circumstances would the character need to be under to limit their big-heartedness?

  • And what drives them forward despite those circumstances?

Infuse Hope

Have you ever met someone who just can’t say something positive if their life depended on it? A forever-curmudgeon, hell-bent on wrecking the days of the eternal optimists of the world?

(Pretty sure one of my old bosses fell into this category. Anyhoo…)

What if that same person was a saver of tree-stuck kittens, a cuddler of orphaned babies, a caregiver for the dependent elderly? Would you think differently about them? Most readers would.

Those tiny doses of sweetness underneath the sour exterior elicit hope. And hope is something we can all use a bit more of these days.

I picked up Anthony Doerr’s novel, All The Light We Cannot See, based on an ad in Poets & Writers magazine. While I knew from the blurb the story was about a blind French girl who protects a jewel coveted by the Nazis and a German orphan who works for the Nazis to track down the resistance, what I found most striking about the novel was the message of hope for the goodness of people in profound circumstances.

About halfway through the novel, Marie-Laure overhears a conversation between her great-uncle and a neighbor, Madame Manec, who is part of the resistance. Her great-uncle asks, “It’s not a person you wish to fight, Madame, it’s a system. How do you fight a system?”

To which Madame Manec replies, “You try.”

While it takes some time, readers watch Marie-Laure’s great-uncle rustle up some good old-fashioned courage following the death of Madame Manec and fire up his old radio to send coded messages on behalf of the resistance as he hopes for a better future for himself and his niece. And through the reading, readers may find the tendrils of hope as they seek more meaningful, hopeful lives for themselves.

When writing or revising your novel, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which of my characters benefits the most from finding hope?

  • What will that character need to find hope?

  • What insights will readers need to understand my message of hope?

Writing Prompt:

Write a scene in which your character is with family, friends, or community members following a dark or challenging event in a space where grief hangs heavy.

  • How does your character find a moment of peace, balance, or clarity?

  • What circumstances provide that moment?

  • What values will the character need to learn or adopt for growth?

  • How can a big-hearted character or an infusion of hope help along the way?

Have Feedback?

Want to tell me what you thought of this article? Have ideas for topics you’d like me to cover in the future? Just want to say, “hello?”

Comment or send me a message to start the conversation.

Happy writing and editing!


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