Fiction touches lives. If you suspect otherwise, just visit an archery shop.
An article in the Denver Post this weekend, titled “They're All Aquiver,” reports how teens and pre-teens who've read The Hunger Games and want to be like Katniss Everdeen are thronging to archery stores and ranges.
Whatever Suzanne Collins's purpose in writing these stories, it likely had nothing to do with prompting kids to learn about bows and arrows. But once stories are released to the public, there's no telling the effect they'll have.
I suspect that in 1958 when Ian Fleming was writing Dr. No, he was simply providing a hint of characterization when he had his character ask for a martini "shaken and not stirred." Ever since, as Jerry Lee Lewis sang, there's been a whole lotta shakin' goin' on.
A generation of novelists later, recreational diver Clive Cussler invented a Bond-like character whose adventures would take place in and under the water. Early in the series Cussler had his hero, Dirk Pitt, check his wristwatch. Having a keen eye for specificity, Cussler looked at his own left wrist, then typed that Pitt was wearing an orange-faced Doxa diver's watch. Today if you attend the annual convention of the group that collects Cussler's books, at least half the people are wearing orange-faced Doxas. In an early novel, Pitt gets caught in a rip-tide. Rather than struggle against it, Pitt swims perpendicular to it until he escapes its grasp. In the decades since, the author has gotten multiple letters from readers who got caught in a similar situation, remembered the scene from Pacific Vortex, and swam to safety.
In many of his westerns, Stephen Bly had a character rant about a situation to the hero, whether Stuart Brannon, Tapadera Andrews, or Brady Stoner. Then Brannon (or Andrews or Stoner) would say, “Are you bragging or complaining?” I remember that not just because it's a great line, but also because I often hear it quoted around my family supper table.
If you ask Jerry B. Jenkins, he can tell you lots of stories about the origin of what was envisioned as a single book (that might sell 50,000 copies) but became a multimillion-selling series that thrust him and Tim LaHaye onto the cover of Newsweek. But Norm Rohrer chronicled the most amazing consequences of Left Behind in his nonfiction book These Will Not Be Left Behind, in which he relates the stories of some of the thousands of people who read the books--and had their lives changed eternally.
If you're a writer and a Christian, no doubt that's your deepest desire for your readers. Some aspect of your stories will affect people. You just never know who and how.