My current work in progress focuses on sexual assault. Given the alarming statistics about this particular type of attack (approximately 238,000 are assaulted each year, averaging out to a rape every two minutes per rainn.org), an audience certainly exists for literature on this subject. There are already some great books that do a wonderful job bringing this issue and its consequences to light—perhaps the most popular one is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak—yet, in my mind, not enough can be written to validate a survivor’s experience, as each one is incredibly personal.
So, how can literature validate those who have suffered a tragedy or who live everyday on the fringe? Books can normalize an occurrence by providing a sense of community. Readers can catch a glimpse of themselves on the pages, which can lessen some of the isolation or fear they may be feeling. Both fiction and nonfiction serve as a spotlight to raise awareness of an issue or of the plight of a particular population.
This brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for the past few months, which is the role of writers as advocates. I believe that, as creators of written works, we have a wonderful opportunity to provide a voice for those who can’t speak up. I almost feel this as an obligation, the need to write something that will help another in some way. Not all the time, certainly, do I sit at my computer with advocacy in mind, but with my current WIP, I definitely am. I have no doubt that this probably stems from my counseling background and from my time as a crisis counselor, going to hospitals during the evidence collection process after a rape.
Here is where I am coming upon a challenge, however, and I just wrote a letter to my mentor lamenting my current state. I am so focused on my message that I don’t have a story. So, in other words, I have a very clear agenda about what I hope the reader will take away from the piece, but I am thwarting my own progress by not getting into the actual journey of the character. By focusing on meaning only, I am not getting very far at all. I’m still trying to balance plot and significance, and I think that, perhaps, my way forward should be to not try so hard and let the story carry its own weight.
To be clear, in no way do I feel that books that are written with less advocacy in mind are without value. I have spent MANY a happy hour reading and rereading books that weren’t “issue-driven” and was all the better for it. After all, sometimes we need less issue-centric books to take us away from, well, our issues. Literature is a wonderful, perfectly safe, and smart means of escape.
What are your thoughts on writers as advocates? What is our obligation, if any, to provide content that sends a message about a societal issue or marginalized group? Sound off below!