Writing the Uncomfortable

From time to time, as authors we find ourselves writing about topics that we (or our audience) might find uncomfortable or even dangerous. If you’re never writing anything that might discomfort your audience you’re probably writing technical manuals or advertising (which is fine, but this isn’t about those types of writing).

Especially at this time of year. Religious holidays—and that word’s a redundancy if I ever heard one—are in the current social and political environment anathema, not to be discussed in polite society.

See my blog at www.lauren-ritz.blogspot.com for my politically correct version of Santa Claus.

I’m not going to go into the social ramifications here, and this is not a discussion of specific holy days. At some point we have to face difficult topics in our writing. Even the shallowest of writers sooner or late writes something that makes one of their readers say “Huh, I never thought of that” and it makes a difference.

If we avoid writing about the hard topics, if we deliberately or subconsciously avoid any mention of things our audience may find uncomfortable, we shortchange them and ourselves. Writing, particularly fiction writing, is about the human condition and making our readers sympathize with our characters—even the villains. If we didn’t empathize with them on some level, they wouldn’t feel nearly as dangerous. Villains are the embodiment of the dark madness that we would rather not reveal to those around us.

If you find yourself writing around a difficult topic, it may be something that you want to explore instead. Whether you choose to incorporate that topic or not is your own choice, but ignoring it should not be an option. Maybe you’ll learn something by exploring it. For certain your readers will.

By Lauren Ritz

About Jocelyn Nash Carlin, Writer

Jocelyn Nash Carlin writes speculative fiction for children and adults. She also co-hosts the Writing Snippets podcast and blog at www.WritingSnippets.com. View all posts by Jocelyn Nash Carlin, Writer

4 responses to “Writing the Uncomfortable

  • Alice

    Good advice. I decided to make the main character in my current WIP have some emotional difficulties due to a traumatic event in her past that she can’t remember. She is tempted to cut herself to deal with the overwhelming feelings that arise whenever something triggers the fear surrounding that past trauma. Though she fights the urge to harm herself, the fact that she has these urges and fears makes her a somewhat unreliable narrator, but it’s important for the story that the reader, others around her, and even she not totally trust some of the things that are happening around her. It would be much easier to leave this problem out, but the story and wouldn’t have as much meaning or depth without it.

  • 1 Story A Week

    I have a very difficult time writing about “the hard things”. It’s not that I am afraid of the reactions from readers though. It stems from the coward in me. He does not want to dive into the areas that make me hurt. It is definitely something I need to get better at.

    Great post.

    • Lauren Ritz

      Exactly. This is more about making the writer in you grow, but when you grow inevitably that will show in your writing and your readers will get some of the benefit.


  • Jocelyn Nash Carlin, Writer

    Great advice, Lauren. I read a series of books recently in which two grown-up adopted siblings who’d been together since early childhood had a very deep–almost romantic–emotional bond with each other. Reading about their feelings for each other got a little uncomfortable at times, but it added a great layer of complexity and depth to the story. I’m very glad that author didn’t shy away from tackling something like that.

    (Newsflesh series by Mira Grant, btw).

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