Writing about Sensitive Topics by Writing about Something Else

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift | Book Review
Satire then.

Write about something that you feel strongly about and you run the risk of sounding preachy. The message can easily overwhelm the story you are trying to create. Fortunately, there are artists and writers who manage to write about sensitive topics. One of these creators is Zahra Al Mahdi. Zahra Al-Mahdi is a writer and artist who uses ink sketches on photographs and animation on live action to tell stories.

I recently saw her TED Talk, The Infinite Alchemy of Storytelling. In this talk, she discusses how she grew up in Kuwait getting information from screens, both the television and social media. The found that the information often contradicted either what she observed for herself or other information also derived from screens.

In her talk, she described a series of fictional animation interviews she created. Each piece was about an uncomfortable truth in Kuwaiti society. In one, a girl talks about how she wants to be just like her grandmother – cooking delicious food, beloved by all, and diabetic. Diabetic? Like the US, Kuwait has a diabetese epidemic. Adults model behavior and, in copying it, younger relatives end up with the same health problems.

Another interview Zahra created was about a horse breeder. It doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize that the topic is really the role of women in Kuwait. Zahra’s work shows how to use dark humor and satire to discuss her own culture in a way that is creative and, through her creative approach, avoids preaching.

What topics do you want to write about that could easily devolve into a sermon? I’ve written about race and social justice, American politics and the energy industry. In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift discussed contemporary British politics by portraying a fictional land where people were divided by the height of their shoe or which end of a soft-boiled egg they cracked.

Perhaps a story about American politics could be framed by choice of hot dog topping. One group eats mustard and the other, shudder, prefers ketchup. Or I could have one group of people who reads only pring books and another that won’t put down their e-readers. What satirical world would you create?

–SueBE