We all have something we really care about. That one topic that, down the pub, your friends will sit back a little as you prepare to launch into your rant. The topics that have you spiralling into an ever-increasing Internet wormhole or have you doomscrolling on social media for more time than is healthy.
As an example of this, I found myself in a Google hole of my own making the other day when I heard what Dominic Raab said about misogyny. Basically, that he didn’t really know what it meant. In recent months the cases of Sarah Everard and Sabina Ness have given me more recourse than usual to have imaginary conversations with people where I change the entire education system/society/world with my cutting and insightful arguments about the importance of equality and tackling hate crimes against women.
Anger can have surprisingly creative results
The good news is that this is also the stuff great stories are made of. When I did my Masters back in 2004, I remember us all having a chat about our ideas and where they came from. Places! People! The unbearable condition of humanity! They all gave me a bit of a funny look when my answer amounted to something along the lines of ‘things that piss me off.’
Almost everything I’ve written was born from that angry, spitting core of wanting change in the world and for people to notice these flaws. But I’m not writing essays or opinion pieces. The issue I focus on becomes embodied by characters and situations. I think, I hope, that my writing is more passionate because of it.
Here are some ideas on how you can take your pet peeves and turn them into bold and exciting pieces of fiction. What’s more, your writing will be serving the function of raising awareness and giving voices to those who need to be heard.
1. Personify the problem
Once you’ve got your topic, think about a character who can show the lived experience of what you want to explore. For me, that’s been everyone from a 40-year-old midwife who doesn’t have children to a young woman in an abusive gay relationship. Creating the character will allow you to personalise your issue,
2. Identify the high stakes
Whatever the issue you are thinking of (climate change, preserving nature, the plight of refugees), what is the biggest or most impactful thing that could happen? When I was exploring conflict and gender, I decided to tackle sexual assault. The result is my book, which takes on the point of view of both the perpetrator and the victim. This way I can dig around in issues of consent, control and perception, alongside writing a compelling, dark novel.
My interpretation of ‘October’ in paint form. Playing is always good.
3. Play Around
Just because you start from a place of realism, doesn’t mean you have to stay there. My musings on maternal attachment led me to this odd story about a strange illness that was turning children into animals. Recently I started a piece on the power of writing for women and ended up writing a dystopian fiction where stories were forbidden because they were dangerous. Let your creativity take you wherever it would like to go.
4. Find the Message
This will only come after several drafts. I don’t like to poke around in themes and things too much until later, otherwise I might get too heavy-handed with them. What you want is to notice the little nugget of something that is huddling between your words and coax it out, gently, so you can amplify it. I wasn’t so subtle in this piece about the horrors of Black Friday but I think the difficulties of parental relationships are handled with just a little more care here.
Whatever your platform, there will always be ways to turn your ideas into stories. And who knows, they might just be the most impactful and interesting ones that you write!
If you want more guidance on using your passions in your writing, my new short story course tackles just that. You can preorder it for November for a bargain price!
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