Biting the Hand that Feeds Us: Handling Controversial Topics in Fiction, Art, and Life

If you’re going to write you might as well write something that’ll potentially change the lives of your readers.  Otherwise, shelve your words and save them for someone who needs affirmation.  When I sit down to write I don’t want to say things that will safely get me sales.  In fact, I care about sales only as an indicator for the number of readers I reach.  More importantly, I want readers to be knocked back on their heels and say to themselves, “I didn’t know.”

Obama family arrives at US Capitol prior to inauguration swear-inWake up calls are never pretty and are never comfortable.  As artists, we are tasked with the unique calling to help audiences contemplate the worst avenues in their lives.  And we have to negotiate the line between being offensive and being helpful.

So how do we handle controversial topics?  How do we as artists stand firm in our character and hold the resolve of morality?

In the spaces between the words I write I can seem anti-conservative, anti-liberal, and even at times anti-Native, and I’m Native (Kiowa and Cherokee).  Why would I do that?  Why would I be so critical?  It could mean jeopardizing my readership.  Yes, that’s true.  But if I didn’t it would mean jeopardizing my own character as an artist.  More importantly, we must have faith that our readers are savvy enough to understand constructive criticism versus dismissive criticism.  A big part of our development as artists is “trusting” our audience, “trusting” their intelligence and their willingness to engage in art.  Our audiences don’t oversimplify anything.  In fact, our audiences want complexity.  That’s the reason they turn to art, literary or visual, so they can find the intellectual stimulation which entertains and enlightens.

Olive_Thomas_in_April_1916_looking_into_a_mirror_with_a_glimpse_of_the_photographerIf you are going to straddle the line successfully, you’re must give each character, each painting, each song three dimensions:  hero, villain, and victim.  I speak about the drama triangle in previous posts (feel free to explore my blog).  This will make your most critical thought on an issue or person constructive?  If you can find the good in the bad and the bad in the good, then you will make an audience reflect rather than run away.  Ultimately, reflection is success as an artist.


(Works Cited:  The images used in this post were borrowed from Wikimedia Commons)



  1. This is great, I completely agree. I’ve been holding back some of my controversial content for the simple fact that it may be too much. But this just gave me confirmation that there are people out there who will appreciate it. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often get pessimistic about writing on controversial topics but I honestly don’t know how to write anything else. Or my desire to write anything else just isn’t there. Sometimes it can feel like people are not as receptive to the writing if they have to look at the ugliest parts of themselves. I’m in constant reflection and assess myself and my behavior, which means I’m always uncomfortable and I automatically assume others are the same. They also like to be uncomfortable and enjoy self assessment. But that’s not always the case. You just have to be ready to defend what you are trying to do in the writing. It can be daunting at times, but in the end we all need opportunity to see ourselves reflected in the behavior of others. This is how we grow. I honestly believe people do have a pallet for it, but it might not be the main course every day. They’ll have to be in a mood for retrospection, but there is a need for it. I often find myself making the case for writing on controversial topics. I have to remind people there is need for it. Once they really assess the need for such writing, then they start to see it as an “unfilled” niche.

      Liked by 1 person

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