How Should Writers Reflect Social Issues?

Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke late last year Pinterest, Twitter and even traditional news carriers have been full of stories, commentaries and revelations about sexual misconduct, the abuse of power and the roles and rights of men and women. Despite being the type of person who has an opinion on everything, I feel there’s nothing I can add to the conversation here (and the world breathes a sigh of relief). However, it does raise the question of how we as writers should reflect social issues within our work.

If you’re still in high school, you probably find that your teachers ask that your creative writing fit around a theme or issue, for example drugs, violence, or racism. The aim of this type of writing is to assess you understanding of the issue itself, the story is secondary. But when we write with the intention of creating an entertaining story, the story must come first.

For example, in my WIP Through Sick and Thin, the protagonist’s little sister has anorexia. Anorexia is a disease that affects people across the world and is being seen in patients at increasingly younger ages. It is a horrible condition with serious mental and physical ramifications, BUT my story is not about anorexia. It is not a catalogue of the symptoms of and treatments for anorexia. I write fiction, not non-fiction. This is important for two reasons:

  • I don’t have to be a %100 accurate. I just have to be plausible. My aim is to catch and keep the interest and emotional investment of my reader, not get published in a peer-reviewed science journal.
  • My protagonist’s journey must always come first because this is what drives the story. The disease is not so important as is how it impacts on Maggie (my protagonist) and her life.

When we write with an issue in mind, especially one which we’re deeply passionate about, it’s easy to get caught up in the issue and make the story its vehicle. In fact, great story telling can often open our eyes to things that are happening in our world that we’ve never thought about. That’s one of the privileges of being a reader and a writer. But if a story fails to entertain and take the reader on a journey with it’s characters, no matter how heart-felt the issue raised in the story is, that story is a failure.

 

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