Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Power of Words and Images

A week has gone by since I first found myself as a full time writer, and what a week this has been. My daughter came home with a ring on her finger last Wednesday. Actually I was not surprised, because the young man she is marrying came by on Monday and asked my permission to propose to her, so he is okay in my book. They will be getting married in the Mount Timpanogos Temple in early March.

Wednesday of this week, my oldest son will be going into the MTC, so we had lots of family come into town. He is going to the Columbus Ohio Mission and we are all pretty jazzed about that.

Those are both pretty big deals, and so I gave myself a little slack on writing. Still, I ended up with nearly 12k words written.

I could actually blog about any of the above, but Sariah’s post about movies, TV, fiction, etc, got me thinking about the power of media. I don’t think any of us who read or write would disagree that the media is a powerful influencer. What we see, read, and hear affects everything from how we view the outside world to how we feel about ourselves. You can prove this just by listening to a soundtrack from a movie you love and seeing how quickly your emotions change. This was definitely the case with me and a movie I watched this last week. The movie was Cinderella Man. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is based on the experiences of the great boxer, Jim Braddock.

The movie starts with Jim trying to support a family with three small children during the depression. Jim has been having a tough time getting any work. The electricity is about to be shut off, the milk man won’t deliver any milk, the grocery store won’t grant any more credit, and Jim’s boxing career has gone downhill rapidly over the past few years. The good news is that Jim has a fight that night which will pay fifty dollars. The bad news is that his hand is hurt and he breaks it completely during the fight. Unable to swing his good hand, Jim is unable to swing his right fist, and the referee calls the bout—meaning Jim won’t get his $50.

At this point in the movie, things quickly go downhill to the point where Jim loses his kids, at least briefly. Now I know things will turn out well, because Jim became the heavyweight champion. But even knowing that, watching the movie was twisting my stomach. Mostly because I have gone through some serious financial ups and downs in my life. The acting of Russell Crow was way too real. I could absolutely feel his pain as a father and husband who has let his family down. Even though my big financial downs are in the past, they are very real in my memory. A couple of years back, my oldest kids went and saw, “Fun With Dick and Jane.” They raved about how good it was, so my wife and I went and saw it. We both hated the movie. I suspect you can guess why if you’ve seen it. It was because when they are searching the house for something to sell, or seeing even their sod being repossessed, our stomachs were churning. Their “funny” financial upheaval was way too real to us.

About six years ago, I wrote a book called “Into the Fire.” It was a modern day story of Job. It said that on the back of the book. Even so, people who bought the book often couldn’t make it through the first half because it was too depressing. I totally understand that. In the movie, “Fun With Dick and Jane,” we knew things would turn out well. But we still found it very hard to laugh along with everyone else. Like the people who read my book, I couldn’t get past the pain in the first half of the film.

So now we go back to Cinderella Man. After all his setbacks, and even having to beg from friends and strangers, Jim gets a chance to make a comeback. And what a comeback it is. By the end of the movie, when he wins the title, I was grinning from ear to ear. It didn’t matter that I knew it was coming; the story caught me up and carried me on its wings. It didn’t matter that parts of the movie were highly changed from what really happened, or that the fight took place well before my time. As I watched the Cinderella Man make his comeback, as I watched fans across the country cheer for him, I felt like it was me making that comeback. I felt like regardless of what kinds of setbacks I might face, I would come out triumphant in the end.

That is the power we wield as authors. That is the power we submit to as readers and viewers. This is not a soap box where I will stand up and say, beware of what you read or write. That is a highly personal choice that no one else should make for you. To me, Harry Potter might be a story of love and inspiration. To you it might be a handbook on witchcraft. We both have that freedom of choice. What I will say is that when you set pen to paper, realize that you are world building, and people will be affected by the worlds you create. If they are not, you have failed. Really. It is that simple. If your story does not affect your reader, you have not created a successful story. Ahhh, but if you succeed . . . what then. That all depends on what your story is. At very least—and this is by no means a small task—you have entertained. At most, you will—through the power of words and images—have changed lives. Don’t take that power lightly or it will come back to bite you.

And readers? Beware. I am not warning you off books or movies. Exactly the opposite. Take in movies and books as you would food. But choose wisely. Images have the power to change everything from your mood to your life. If you are going through a tough time right now, give yourself permission to read something light. Or maybe you need to a story like Julie Wright's "My Not So Fairytale Life," to be reminded that we all go through trials. Nearly every published author I know has had someone tell them that a story they wrote affected a reader. For every person who couldn’t read Into the Fire, someone else told me that it helped them overcome difficult trials. Think carefully about what you need from your stories and choose the kinds of stories that will give you what you currently require. Nourish your mind and soul with the same care (or better care if you eat like me) with which you nourish your body. As authors, we couldn’t ask for anything more than that. As readers, you deserve nothing less.


At 12/02/2008 9:57 AM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Powerful reminder, Jeff. Thanks. I have my own "Into the Fire" with my second book. A lot people didn't like going into the darker elements of abuse. The book didn't do that well becauseof that. On the other hand, I had some readers who came to me and said things like, "Is that what abusers are really like? Because my friends say my boyfriend could be an abuser . . . and he's kinda like that. Now I'm wondering if I should break up with him."

At 12/02/2008 2:45 PM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

Great movie Jeff. It ranks somewhere in my Top Ten movie list. My #5 pick, Seabiscuit, has a lot in common with Cinderella Man. The settings are both depression era. Both themes are recovering and finding yourself after suffering terrible loss. Both movies are based on ture stories. Seabiscuit also has my number one pick for best line in a movie mostly because it is one of the closest lines I've ever come across that mirrors the ideas of the atonement:

"You don't throw a whole life away, just 'cause its banged up a little."

Tom Smith
Horse Trainer
(played by Chris Cooper)

(click here to view the Seabiscuit three minute theatrical trailer)

At 12/02/2008 9:21 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Yeah, Cinderella Man is one of my all-time favorite movies. It reminds me of the movie: The Pursuit of Happyness. Similar theme. Incredible, thought-provoking story. I remember when Titanic came to theaters. Friends of mine said that it changed their lives seeing those people floating in the freezing water with their children.

At 12/02/2008 10:07 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I picked up a copy of "Into the Fire" right after I had come out of my own similar fire. I devoured it! It was exactly what I needed, to know that I was not alone in what I had gone through. But it's interesting because four years later I don't know if I'd feel the same way. It might be more like your "Dick and Jane" experience. Thanks for your thoughts.


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