Those were the words that Carol Quillen, the president of Davidson College, my alma mater, has told its current students and is also the tagline to woo prospective students. I believe that what she meant was for students, when they graduate, to apply critical thinking to their chosen fields so that they can transform those fields.
In the game of chess, one well thought-out move can change the course of a game from a losing proposition for a player to a winning one. But to have a move that becomes a game changer requires a lot of careful planning for the player. In chess games, just like careers, one achieves victories through deliberate planning and moves, not by impulse.
I would like to consider what defines a game changer in terms of a writer. What’s a good definition for it? President Quillen was on to something regarding critical thinking. In writing, it is especially important. Whether we write nonfiction (books and articles), fiction (both novels and short stories), or poetry, we have the opportunity to apply critical thinking to make it better and thought-provoking.
If you write nonfiction, the answer may be clear and easy. Nonfiction documents issues facing our world today. Done well, including both the research and writing, nonfiction causes its readers to think. Enough books and articles on one topic may also cause a shift in societal thinking. It’s easy to think that only nonfiction impacts the world.
Not so. Sure, much of fiction may be perceived as a fun escape, but I think that if we view fiction only as a way to escape reality—what I call “beach books”—we as writers miss an opportunity. How many novels have you read have left an impact on you? How many times have you put a book down when you finished and thought, “Wow. I never knew much about that topic, but I’ve learned something, and it’s changed my way of thinking”?
Two novels I read come to mind. The first is called And They Shall See God by Athol Dickson. I read it in preparation for a proposal related to Hunter Hunted. I began reading it purely to finish my proposal, but as I got deeper into it, I first learned that there is a substantial Jewish population in New Orleans. The second thing I learned was how Jews and Christians have difficulty in trusting each other. Of course, there was an entire plot attached to it, but the backdrop of this conflict added a whole new dimension to the novel.
The second novel, Beyond the Cherokee Trail by Lisa Carter, is a romantic suspense novel. Carter worked in two time frames, 2018, the 200-year anniversary of the Trail of Tears, as well as 1818, when the Trail of Tears happened. I admit that I cried as I read this one. Sure, the two main characters had heartache, but what I cried over was what happened so many years ago and how unjust it was. Sure, I’d heard of the Trail of Tears, but I never realized the history around it and what caused it.
If you wish to write a novel that’s a fun beach book, that’s okay. I understand. Go for it. But if your desire is to not only write a novel with a great plot but also one impacts readers, you need to plan carefully and not go at it spontaneously. It’s like a chess game. If a chess player is whimsical or impulsive about his moves, he’ll surely lose. But a winning chess player plans each move with great deliberation and care.
Below are attributes that a game-changing novel needs to have. I’ll expand on each in later posts.
- Quality (Pawn)
- Research (Knight)
- Characterization (Bishop)
- Plot (Rook)
- Theme (Queen)
- Glorification of the King (King)
So get ready. Get set. Learn how to become a game changer.