We’ve all probably read fictional books that tackle very challenging life issues. I have to admit that I’m a huge Pat Conroy fan and truly mourned his passing knowing I would never have a new novel of his to read. I know that not everyone loves his books—and I admit that some chapters are very hard to read. He does, however, bring to light abuse within families and the effects the abuse has on multiple generations. Conroy was never afraid to write about the harsh realities of the only lives some people know.
What do we do if we have an issue we would like to write about that has touched our lives or the lives of close friends or family? Do we tackle these tough issues in a novel to help bring light to the issues? Do we leave the issues alone because they are so personal to so many people and may bring up emotions that others are still wrestling with?
Tackling issues that are painful to some people isn’t the best idea for every author. You know your audience and your writing ability better than anyone. Jodi Picoult’s readers, for instance, know to expect novels about school shootings (with parts from the perspective of the shooter’s parents), adoption issues, child abduction cases, and racial issues. if you are considering tackling a topic that others may see as painful or divisive, ask yourself if you are up to the challenge and if your audience is ready to read a novel that may contain disturbing topics for some.
If you decide to tackle an emotional topic, here are some suggestions:
1. Make sure you research the emotional angles of the topic as closely as you would research the historical aspects or factual aspects of other topics.
2. Let readers know in the book description any themes that may be painful for some people to read about. A grieving mother may not be ready to read a novel about a shooting or a child abduction. A survivor may experience flashbacks if they read descriptive scenes containing family violence. Don’t surprise your readers.
3. Blog about the topic so you provide information for readers to start healing discussions with book club members or friends. Link to professional websites to offer resources to readers who may want to explore the topic further.
4. Let a counselor and a community member read your manuscript along with your regular readers. They may spot words that will be interpreted differently by someone who has experienced the topic you are weaving into your novel.
I chose to tackle a tough subject when I wrote about a main character leaving domestic violence, but I chose each word carefully and used the novel to start conversations in my community. Don’t fear tackling a tough subject, but just add a lot of care knowing that some readers may still be healing from the hurts.