Lengthening the Chain

I attended the Florida SCBWI’s Winter Conference last month—as a speaker, which was major league awesome, and I’ll write more about that another time. But frankly, I was so blown away by what headliner Bruce Coville had to say that I wanted to share that first.

The speech he gave was called Lengthening the Chain. It’s from a passage out of John Berger’s Here is Where we Meet. In an exchange between a mother and a son, the mother starts by saying…

“One thing repaired changes a thousand others.” 

The son replies, “So?” 

And out flows a maternal speech: “The dog down there is on too short a chain. Change it, lengthen it. Then he’ll be able to reach the shade, and he’ll lie down and he’ll stop barking. And the silence will remind the mother she wanted a canary in a cage in the kitchen. And when the canary sings, she’ll do more ironing. And the father’s shoulders in a freshly ironed shirt will ache less when he goes to work. And so when he comes home he’ll sometimes joke, like he used to, with his teenage daughter. And the daughter will change her mind and decide, just this once, to bring her lover home one evening. And on another evening, the father will propose to the young man that they go fishing together… Who in the wide world knows? Just lengthen the chain.”

Coville went on to discuss how what we do as writers matters. He read a letter he’d received from a man who had read his books as a child. One passage had touched this man in a profound way and stayed with him throughout adolescence, influencing him to eventually join the Peace Corps and work for a number of years in a third-world country. Imagine the number of lives this young man was able to touch and change for the better, because of an idea Coville had written into one of his stories.

Coville then went on to share a story about Alex Flinn, author of Breathing Underwater. When a fan read this book about an abusive teen relationship, it gave her the courage to break things off with her own violent boyfriend, and then reach out to other girls caught in the spiral of abuse.

Ellen Hopkins, who writes gritty stories in verse about difficult contemporary topics, was another speaker at the conference. She was contacted by a young drug-addicted girl who was disheartened by her many failed attempts to get straight. After reading Ellen’s words, this girl gained the courage to try a final time. At their last correspondence, she’d been clean for 7 months.

We hear it all the time: our words have power. But here’s proof, people. Words can be transformative, not only in the life of the reader, but in all the lives the reader touches.

Well, sure, you say, if you happen to write about drug addiction and physical abuse and life-or-death topics like that. What if I don’t? How can my stories lengthen the chain and help my readers? 

The way All Dogs Go to Heaven comforted a girl grieving the recent loss of her pet
The way a fictional story about a horse could enlighten an entire world as to the reality of animal cruelty
The way a book about rabbits astounded a child with the truth that “nice people aren’t always nice and evil doesn’t always wear a black hat”
The way a great story can turn a non-reader into a voracious one
The way the familiarity and simple goodness of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables could bring comfort and peace to a new mom in the throes of postpartum depression. [Guess who :)]

The fact is, there are a million ways that a story written from your heart can touch someone else’s—by giving comfort, revealing a truth, introducing a character that the reader recognizes in him or herself, or simply providing a few hours of joy. So write the story that is yours to write. Be honest and brave and original, and use your gift to lengthen the chain for someone else.

LINK: PART 2 of Lengthening The Chain


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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26 Responses to Lengthening the Chain

  1. Pingback: Lengthening the Chain: Part 2 | WRITERS HELPING WRITERSWRITERS HELPING WRITERS

  2. Our words do have power, and that’s why I think writers are among the most influential people on earth. They also have such a huge responsibility. Setting down ideas in words that will last into the future, must be done with attention to honesty and careful crafting. Great post. Loved

  3. This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the moment.

  4. Wonderful post and timely reminder. Thank you!

  5. Great post, Becca. And what an image — lengthening the chain for someone. Thanks!

  6. Marcia says:

    You are so right! I first read The Lord of The Rings over 30 years ago, and still get inspired by Frodo’s bravery. Once in a while, I’ll catch myself and say “but Frodo’s not real” … then I’ll chide myself for thinking that makes a difference.


  7. Oh this is so true! Writers can be very influential with what they put out to their readers and we should always be aspiring to give them something special and good. Something that is capable of changing them. Great post, Becca! 🙂

  8. Great post Becca. That’s amazing how we can influence others through our stories.

    I love Bruce Coville as an author. Some of his fantasy books are so good. I saw him at a SCBWI Fall conference years ago. He was a great speaker, though he was definitely very funny then. He was there with Bruce Hale and Michael Stearns and they all had us laughing so much. This one sounds like a much more serious talk.

  9. amy kennedy says:

    Thank you. Just, thank you.

  10. Such a great post, Becca! I would to have loved to have been there and learned from Bruce and everyone else!

    If everyone in the world positively impacted just one person each, can you imagine what life would be like? 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing that great tip, Becca. That’s a fascinating concept. I love that Ellen’s writing got that girl clean.

  12. Those are inpsiring thoughts. Now I’m wondering what, if anything, my words have done to lengthen the chain for others.

  13. Rosi says:

    Wonderful post. Wish I could have been there.

  14. Mark Means says:

    Great message and one I’m going to keep in mind. Thanks!

  15. Thanks for this inspiring post! I find many, many authors inspiring. On that note, I’m celebrating authors, on my blog this month. Interested? Please stop by my blog when you have a minute, see my Jan. 31, ‘Dear Authors’ post. I’d love to have you! Thank you!

  16. I was floored every single time Bruce got up to speak that weekend. I wish he’d spoken more often! But then we would have missed out on all of the other amazing speakers, so I guess it’s a trade off. 😉

    It was nice to meet you at the conference, Becca! Hopefully I’ll see you in Miami again next year.

  17. Heartwarming to know our stories can do so much!! Thanks for the lesson!!

  18. Laura Murray says:

    Thank you for this post, Becca. It started my writing day in a different direction :). I shared it on Facebook as well. It was great to be reminded of the incredible speech Bruce Coville gave at the conference, but also how it can be applied, not only to writing, but to life in general.

  19. That is awesome! Sounds like it was an inspirational speech and I’m so glad you shared it with us.

  20. Atif Ahmed says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. Alana Mander says:

    Brilliant post. It has inspired me to get back to the page and also reminded me how very action within a story can have an affect on what comes next and to use this to more effect.

  22. SA Larsenッ says:

    Wow…that is a powerful example of how we’re all connected and the importance of our actions. Thanks so much for sharing this, Becca!

  23. What a wonderful, uplifting and inspiring post! Thank you, Becca.

  24. JeffO says:

    What a great post, Becca. Thank you!

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