Do We Have A Responsibility To Tackle Social Issues In Our Writing

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Written by JJ Barnes

Stories are powerful, and I truly believe that stories have the power to change the world. With stories we can explore social issues. We can write about racism, domestic violence, sexism and more, in a way that’s accessible and interesting. We can examine multiple opinions and experiences through the eyes of different characters.

When you read or watch stories, you can find humanity in your enemy. An understanding of alternative opinions that you might otherwise never consider. Stories can change people’s opinions. We can 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? Should we feel morally obligated to tackle complex issues, in our stories?

Examples Of Social Issues Being Tackled In Fiction

Writing About Social Issues, The Table Read
The West Wing

In the TV series The West Wing, social issues are tackled regularly with strong opinions on both sides of arguments. You see intelligent, human and compassionate characters to represent all views with respect.

In The West Wing it’s done head on. They talk in real terms directly about problems facing society. This works 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. I wrote about mermaids and the way they are treated by the dominant class, the humans. I explore the concept through the way the characters interact with one another and the problems they face.

By making a choice to tackle these issues in story, you’re having an impact.

Is It Wrong To Not Deal With Social Issues?

Writing About Social Issues, The Table Read
Photo by Ben Mack on

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. 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. 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. Nor to 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. I am a big fan personally of when diversity is embraced in story. However, 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. 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.

Using Your Platform For Good

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 tackle issues that are affecting the world around you. You can try to explore issues in a way that makes a difference in the world. Or you can look at people who are struggling and sad. You can try to bring light, comfort and laughter to them.

Both of these endeavors 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. Nor are you 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.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website:

Buy my books:

Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose

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