Creative writers have the power to change the world through poetry, short stories, novels, and memoirs. But writing political critique (or any work meant to raise social awareness or conscientiousness) is a task that can be fraught with pitfalls. If you want to influence the world with your creative writing, you need to be well-informed, bold, and—perhaps most importantly—aware of your own predispositions and intentions. Our tips will help!
Tips For Socially And Politically Conscious Creative Writers
1. Cut out condescension. If you’re writing a piece because you believe you need to change people’s minds about your subject, you might make the mistake of thinking that your audience isn’t as informed as you are about the topic at hand. Keep a keen eye out for anything that sounds condescending—and delete it.
2. Don’t oversimplify. Unless you’re writing a traditional fable, resist the urge to drive your moral point home by casting the issue in terms of wrong versus right or good versus evil. Instead, tackle complex issues with intelligence and sensitivity. Examine both sides of the issue if possible. And even if your antagonists are really, really evil, as a writer you must take care to…
3. Show compassion. The best fictional villains plan their nefarious schemes believing in their own righteousness. So the people who are on the “wrong” side of the issue in your work should be as well thought out and well-rounded as your protagonist. Let readers see the “bad guys” in your story as real, striving, yet misguided people in their own right. Learn more about writing unlikable characters.
4. Avoid stereotypes. While your characters may embody certain familiar traits of a given demographic (example: your wealthy fictional politician loves expensive suits), be sure that you create multidimensional characters who surprise us and engage us (maybe said politician has a secret love of cheap diners because his first job in high school was busing tables at the local greasy spoon).
5. Take pains to be accurate. If you’re writing about a social movement based on real life, or if you are writing about a specific event within a movement, be sure to do your research. Readers will notice errors and omissions.
6. Write about real people with caution. Before you write a book based on a real person, it’s important to know the legal ramifications. Is the person still alive? Be careful: You could expose yourself to a lawsuit. Even if your subject is deceased, you still might face scrutiny by the heirs. And keep in mind: Fictionalizing the life of a real person isn’t necessarily going to shield you from lawsuits if that person is recognizable. Talk to a lawyer if you have concerns.
7. And Our Number One Tip For Socially Conscious Writing? Change Your Approach. Often, teachers of creative writing caution their students about approaching any piece of writing with a conscious, preexisting intention to teach audiences something or sway their viewpoint. While today’s readers tend to give authors of the past some leeway about moralizing, modern writers who go into a piece hoping to change a paradigm sometimes strike readers as self-righteous and condescending.
Instead of trying to “teach the world a lesson” with your writing, consider this approach instead: Simply tell your story with authenticity, passion, intelligence, and dignity.
Anne Lamott says it best: “A moral position is not a message. A moral position is a passionate caring inside you.” If you care, readers will too.