I’ll be writing about the video Do we have a responsibility to tackle social issues in our writing?, from the writing advice series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.
Stories Can Change The World
Stories are powerful, and I truly believe that stories have the power to change the world. With stories we can explore social issues such as racism, domestic violence, sexism and more, in a way that’s accessible and interesting, whilst exploring multiple opinions and experiences through the eyes of different characters. When you read or watch stories, you find humanity in your enemy, and understanding of alternative opinions that you might otherwise never consider. Stories can change people’s opinions, shape viewpoints, or make people feel security in who they are because they see themselves represented and accepted.
On that grounds, and understanding the power we can have with our stories, is it our responsibility as creators to include important themes and tackle complex issues, in our stories?
Examples Of Social Issues Being Tackled In Fiction
In the TV series The West Wing, social issues are tackled regularly with strong opinions on both sides of arguments, and intelligent, human and compassionate characters to represent all views. In The West Wing it’s done head on, they talk in real terms directly about problems facing society because it’s a show about politics, and the people in government wanting to make a difference, but you can also do it through themes. In my second book, Lilly Prospero And The Mermaid’s Curse, I write about themes of racism, with the othering of the mermaids and the way they are treated by the dominant class, the humans. I don’t write directly about racism, but the issues around it are explored by the way the characters interact with one another and the problems they face.
When we make a choice to tell a story, we are able to choose what we include, and all those choices have consequences. Whether you choose to talk about problems directly, such as in The West Wing, via themes such as Lilly Prospero And The Mermaid’s Curse, or by making a decision to use a diverse cast of characters that will reach people usually underrepresented in fiction and ensuring they are welcomed in and feel accepted. Each of these choices has power, and that can be a power for good if we choose to use it.
Is It Wrong To Not Deal With Social Issues?
Choosing to make a difference with our stories is, to me, an incredibly good use of this gift we have as story tellers.
However, if we suggest that a writer is duty bound by their career as a story teller to tackle social issues, we lose the opportunity for light stories that purely exist for our entertainment and pleasure.
When you’re tired, or stressed, or anxious, a light story that doesn’t explore difficult questions is exactly what you need. Creating these forms of entertainment is in no way morally bankrupt, and it is an art form worthy of the same respect as writers who choose to go into deeper and darker places with their craft. Bringing relief to people who need it, and not giving any judgment on them for needing a break from pain and struggle, is important, and a worthy use of your talents in story telling.
You Can’t Make Everybody Happy
I don’t think we should be obligated to tell stories that tackle issues that other people think should be tackled, or include an underrepresented minority that some people feel we should represented. You sometimes find that people will attack writers for not including a specific group in their work, and whilst I am a big fan personally of when diversity is embraced in story, I think it’s reasonable for writers to simply say if you don’t like, this story isn’t for you. You cannot possibly expect to make everybody happy with the social issues you tackle or choose not to, you cannot be expected to represent every group that might want to be represented, and it’s very easy to feel like you’re not good enough because somebody who didn’t write your story thinks you should have written it in a different way.
When you’re a story teller and if you have built yourself a platform from which to tell your stories to an audience, you can use that platform to do good. You can look at issues that are affecting the world around you, and try to explore them in a way that makes a difference in the world, or you can look at people who are struggling and sad, and try to bring light, comfort and laughter to them. Both of these endeavours are worthwhile and I think you’re using your opportunities well. You’re not morally deficient if you choose not to tackle social situations in your stories, you’re not a weak story teller if you focus on light and fun, but if you do choose to try and change the world in a positive way through the stories you tell, I think you’re doing something incredible.
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