Tackling contemporary social issues in fiction

Feb - 28 2019 | By

Important issues do not always get as much attention as they deserve, considering the magnitude of the problems, and the numbers of people affected. Writing about social issues raises an awareness that often remains in the shadows. Probably because, they are too difficult to confront head-on. Therefore, when you write about these concerns, remember that it is most important to tell a good story; the first step in raising awareness.

Authors display their best, most passionate writing, when they are allowed to write about issues that really matter to them and to the people they care about. Give your readers a chance to think on a deeper level.

Story ideas can come from anywhere and your job, as a writer, is not only to write or produce the most obvious stories, but also to come up with interesting ideas or angles that have not been covered.

From my first novel, I have been writing about social issues, including homelessness and dysfunctional families, missing and murdered indigenous women, recreational sex and non-consensual sex. And the list goes on for these are but a few topics covered in my novels. Through fiction, the writer can raise awareness of important social issues without becoming heavy handed or boring. Allow your fans to read for entertainment while still learning a thing or two.

To write effectively about any social issue (and perhaps especially one that is controversial) it is most important to:

Do extensive research.

Research news sources, journals, and magazines to get both a general idea of the scope of the problems and how they manifest themselves, BUT also a more personal notion of how real people are affected by the problem. Develop different characters with various strengths and weaknesses that defy stereotypes and work together.

Toss out your agenda.

Do not expect that your book will make a difference to the world’s problems, as it probably won’t, but that should not be the reason for writing about it. You should be writing about your concerns because it is the right thing to do. Writing is the simple, wise and empowering way of attacking any difficulty.

Be humble.

The world’s issues should not make you feel as if you are responsible to find the solution. This is a trap that both activists and people trying to write about social issues can easily fall into. Worst of all it’s ineffective.

Be honest.

Rejections cause writers to take a deeper look at the reason behind writing about social issues. Is it your purpose to do something about the issue, or to be a writer? Undoubtably you want to be a writer. Therefore, approach the topic differently—not by trying to move other people to some desired end but by exploring as deeply as possible the root of the problem. Do not be afraid to put your feelings into the topic and express your concerns about those entangled in a situation, victims of circumstances. Be creative. Tell the story by being honest, real and vulnerable.

Add humour.

Although the theme is serious, think about adding humor. It makes reading more fun and easier to navigate difficult issues. It also makes the story realistic. Your fan base will get turned away from chapter after chapter of doom and gloom.

There is just no sense in pondering

the functions of literature without

relating it to the actual society that

uses it, to the centers of power within

that society, and to the institutions that

mediate between literature and people.

– Richard Ohmann (1976)

English in America: A Radical View of the Profession