Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Business of Writing and Dealing with Tragedy

On Friday, I posted my normal article about a book from the Crime Writer’s Library. Little did I know at the time that the United States would be gripped with the shock at another senseless mass murder. I had expected to write my Monday article on the business of writing and I was going to address the ideas behind the author’s website. I am going to take that idea and hold onto it for the future. Instead, I am going to write on the purpose of writing.

It took me quite a while to get my emotions under control to write this article. I know I can seem hard, cold, and callused regarding death. I have seen so much of it in my lifetime that often I feel that I walk in Azrael’s shadow. I have seen the dark side of humanity, looked it in to the eye and have seen the gleam of evil that I would hope none who read this article would ever know. Perhaps this is why I write about such dark subjects, because in my writing my emotions come forth. Despite the ragged edge of life with which I have walked, my humanity cannot help but be affected by such events. There are many debates going on our society in the aftermath. This article is not going to address those debates and any comment for or against on those debates will be deleted.

However, as writers the tragedies and society that we see are our business. If you are writing sugary poetry and stories where the world is beautiful and you do not touch on social issues, you are failing yourself and your readers—if have any. It is our job to address social issues and to weave them into our stories. It is impossible to be a writer and not side one way or another on any of the issues we see in our world.

Writing about social issues is not restricted to genre nor is it restricted to the age of our reader. Genre and audience only dictate how you do it. The amount of social issues that can be addressed are unlimited and can be scary to write about. We may feel that we will lose our audience when we address a certain issue or take up an unpopular stance against the social norm. Tough fruitcake. That’s our job. That’s what your readers expect from you and from me.

What are the social issues you have addressed in your current work in progress? Have you brought the ugly side of them to the surface or is it lying in the undercurrent like crocodiles waiting to pull the reader under? Have you flushed it out enough? Ask yourself these questions with each draft of your poetry, song lyric, novel, or short story you write.

If somehow you are at a loss on what social issues you could write about, here is a small list (this list can is from Wikipedia
  • Abortion
  • Accident
  • Suicide and Assisted suicide
  • Censorship
  • Crime
  • Illegal Immigration
  • Human rights
    • Children's rights
    • Disability rights
    • LGBT rights
    • Youth rights
    • Women's rights
    • Gun rights
    • Ageism / Old Age etc.
  • Religious laws
  • Discrimination
  • Dictatorship
    • Racism
    • Ableism (Disability) etc.
  • Capital punishment
  • Corporal punishment
  • Bullying
  • Drug laws
  • Alcohol laws
  • Tobacco and smoking laws
  • Gambling laws
  • Prostitution laws
  • Population ageing
  • Overpopulation
  • North–South divide
  • Age of consent
  • School leaving age
  • Euthanasia
  • Environmental issue
  • Immigration
  • Emigration
  • Affirmative action
  • Corruption
  • Unemployment
  • Riots
  • Child labor
  • Economic inequality
  • Poverty
  • Beggars
  • War and Conflict
  • Terrorism
  • Child abuse
  • Human Trafficking
  • Social inequality
  • Trolling
I would like to add to this list:
  • Men’s rights
  • Education
  • Surveillance/Electronic tracking
  • Institutional Dysfunction
  • Authoritarianism vs. Free will
  • Religious rights
  • Sacrifice vs. Greed
  • Addiction
  • Health and Mental Health Care
  • Starvation and Obesity

Neither of these lists are exhaustive. If you are writing, you are passionate. If your writing is flat, ask yourself “what social issue is in my writing and have I explored it enough?” I bet your answer will be that you haven’t.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.


  1. I might add 'Loneliness' to your list; it seems that's at the root of a lot of poor or self-destructive behaviour. But then your list of social issues would deal with the outcropping of various negative human emotions.
    I see one danger, though: by writing about these things we run the risk of painting an "everybody's doing this" picture because folks tend to grade themselves by a "Looks like 70% of the others do this; so what if I do, too."
    A person needs to find the balance between lifting out the issue for examination in our writing and making it seem common-- therefore acceptable.

    1. Thank you for your add and the comment. I don't disagree.

    2. I've commented from my blogspot address, but I seldom use it; I regularly use

  2. Thanks, Dave, for the opportunity to join your blog. I agree with your stance.

    One word of caution. A book on writing skills, I forget its name, cautions against tainting our nonfiction stories with our personal opinions. They can destroy our objectivity in the minds of our readers for reporting what we see with an unbiased eye. The book states that those, who inject their opinions, must do so with skill.

    In my unfinished ms., Tribute to Spookie: Homeless Pet, I deal with the abusive threats the police made about killing us when we lived in our abandoned building. I add my personal feelings to the story. But I do so in a way that represents factual reporting, not opinionating. What happened is a fact. How we all felt about what happened is also a fact.

    However, my opinions try to be as unbiased as can be reasonably expected. Disgust is shown for the bad behavior, not for the badge. My opinions also try to show the police as grey figures, not stark black-or-white characters. It shows the smile of the new cop standing next to the frowning seasoned cop, as the new cop receives on-the-job-training. You see the conflict between good and bad here even among the police.

    I don't mean to paint myself as an accomplished writer successfully injecting opinion into nonfiction. It is a never-ending battle of balance requiring constant reflection and editing, especially when your own emotions are involved.

    How do you tell the full story with color and drama while keeping within the nonfiction genre? I guess the answer is: Never get too comfortable with your answer.