I Can’t Help But Put Social Themes in My Stories

Posted: August 24, 2014 in Reflections, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As of last night, I’m a little more than halfway through editing Video Rage, the sequel to my first novel Reborn City. It’s been a long and slow process, not helped by work, preparing for the new semester, and the general craziness of life itself. Still, I am making progress. And I have become a bit more cognizant of the fact that I like to make issues that are important to me part of the stories that I write.

I’ve mentioned this before, but RC and its sequel VR have a lot of themes in them that reflect societal problems we face today, including Islamophobia, racism, and drug addiction, among a few others. I thought that these were the only book I’ve written where these issues have become so embedded within the story’s narrative, but then I realized that wasn’t the case. Snake, my other novel, explores the trade in human beings and in flesh, albeit slightly less prominent due to the focus on a certain serial killer.  And Laura Horn, the novel I finished last month, stars a main character who suffers from the trauma of sexual assault. Even Rose, the novel I’ll be writing for my thesis, has a lot of themes reflecting issues that I find important, including gender dynamics and women being viewed solely for their biology, domestic abuse in relationships, and even gun violence*.

*Speaking of which, I have a post about that. Remind me to write about it later this week.

I think I write in all these themes into my stories for a number of reasons. One is because a lot of what I write is taken from today’s world. You look around you, and you’ll see the world plagued by many issues that are not easy to solve and nowhere close to being solved. Often I will write a story and the problem can either be inserted into the story or it just evolves its way in, showing up throughout the story. Another reason is that, as an author, I have the potential to influence plenty of people through the words I write and the stories I tell. If I can do some good through that, then why shouldn’t I? Third, sometimes you feel so upset about the problems yourself you can only vent about them through words on paper, which is something I sometimes do. And fourth, because I can.

In any case, I look upon this habit of mine as beneficial. Like I said, inserting issues such as racism, gun violence, LGBT rights or whatever into my stories has the potential to perhaps do some good in the world and allow for discussion that sometimes is stifled out of fear or because of strong emotions (or because being politically correct can make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells). And besides, I think it makes the plots of my stories much better. Rose originally didn’t have the gun violence aspect to it, but when I realized that it could make things in the story more interesting and allow me to flesh out the main character more, I decided to go with it, and with fantastic results too.

And if the reviews I’ve gotten on my books are any indication, people like my books better because I add in these issues.

Do you insert issues important to you in your stories? What issues and how do you put them in? What have the reactions been like?

  1. Pat Bertram says:

    I don’t really do issues, don’t always know what the issues are. My themes are more historical, pulling from the past to create present day stories.

    • I saw that in “More Deaths Than One”, and I thought it was pretty interesting how you did it. I also was amazed by the contrast between the voice you use on your blog and the voice you use when you tell a story. It’s a little hard to believe that they’re from the same person.

      • Pat Bertram says:

        Hmm. That’s interesting about the voices. I have a hunch the voice in the dance book, my current project (well, it will be my current project when I get back to work on it), will be more of the breezy blog voice.

        But I do have another unfinished project in my story voice. Maybe someday I’ll get that finished, too.

      • I’d like to read both of them when they’re published.

  2. S.C. Hickman says:

    I’ll agree issues of the day are both topical and actually if done in the right doses, not as some didactic program of education or philosophical hammer that one uses to pound people with, that it can add depth to both setting and character. The work I’m on at the moment Flower for Lobelia, a noir novel deals with issues of violence, drugs, revenge, sex trade, gangs, etc. the street life of most cities in a way that it will become a part of the landscape of the story rather than its message. I mean we can see in objects, things, and places the darkness of drugs and violence, sex, BDSM, ritual worlds of people without religion, etc. It seems that freedom leads back to chains. So in this sense issues have to become a part of any storyline, else it seems to be almost written in fairy dust rather than life. At least that’s my own take for what it’s worth.

    By the way I need to get a copy of your book and read it once I get caught up. Seems I never get caught up these days, writing s much… 😉

    • That sounds like an interesting book. And you’re right, it’s interesting how these themes and these issues become part of the landscape of the book as well as its storyline. I wish you luck in writing it.

      And thanks for commenting and saying you’d like to get a copy of one of my books. I hope you find the time to get one and whichever one you decide on, I hope you find the time to read it and enjoy it. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Angela Misri says:

    I guess the Great Depression is the best excuse when writing a historical fiction novel to insert ‘social issues’ like rampant unemployment and poverty…

    • Yeah, that came up a bit in the early chapters of JotT. Will it be showing up in the sequels in any capacity? Or are you not allowed to tell me one way or another?

      • Angela Misri says:

        Of course I can tell you! Yes yes it will keep coming up. One of the reasons I placed Portia in the 1930s is because I’m fascinated by the social situations in London at that time!

      • Yeah, you can find a lot of inspiration for stories taking place during a particular period and the events that transpired around those times. I have an idea for a novel that I’d like to work on someday, and it deals with the racism and class tensions in post-Civil War Mississippi.
        Even looking to the past you, find plenty of ways to talk about today’s issues!

  4. Wherever and as often as possible. Sometimes, it can’t be helped though, right? You find yourself exploring characters, theme and plot, and then boom! You’ve got yourself a chance to explore something people care about, or find controversial, and you think “why not?” Much like feeling responsible for what you write, it’s the mark of a serious writer 🙂

    Oh, and fyi, you have a post about gun violence you need to write about later this week.

    • Oh thanks Matt. I almost completely forgot. How silly of me.

      In science fiction especially, you often find yourself exploring these issues, and sometimes even predict issues that may come up. Elysium was a wonderful look at our ever-widening wage gap and the problem of obtaining affordable healthcare. And while I do have problems with Hunger Games (more than I care to count), it does satirize our obsessions with violence and reality TV.

      Heck, ever since Frankenstein there’s been room to explore the world’s changes and problems through the fantastic realm of sci-fi. It’s a good genre to do so, though any other genre provides the same opportunities to do so. Maybe it’s because sci-fi deals with technology and the what-is-possible a lot that it seems so suited for doing so. Just look at what all the stories above and their creators managed to do. Look what I did with RC. Look at what you can do with WD!

      • WD? That story explores very little in the way of issues. It’s just shit blowing up and zombies getting killed. I leave the heavy stuff to my sci-fi writing. Probably why it sells less 😉

      • I don’t know. You do look a bit in PZ about small-town communities defending themselves. A lot of small towns in the Western US today feel they need to defend themselves, though from what is anyone’s guess.

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